Warning: graphic content .
A pre-term baby was found dead and burned in a Phoenix homeless encampment over the weekend, and nearby residents are demanding justice.
Around 1 a.m. on Saturday morning, Phoenix police said they received a call regarding an endangered child in an area known as "the Zone," the largest homeless encampment in the city. When police arrived on the scene near 11th Avenue and Madison Street, they discovered a pre-term baby of approximately 20 to 24 weeks' gestation laying near the road. The baby, whose gender has not been released, was pronounced dead at the scene by the Phoenix Fire Department.
Joel Coplin, who lives nearby, told reporters that his neighbor and his neighbor's fiancée, neither of whom have been named, spotted someone lighting something on fire by the roadway that night and went to put the fire out. Only after they attempted to douse the fire did the couple discover, to their horror, that the body of a baby was burning.
"[H]is fiancée came and was trying to put the fire out, and then he went to stomp on it to put it out and realized it was a baby in there," Coplin recalled. "He saw the head, a perfectly shaped head, and little arms, hands, legs, chest. He grabbed his fiancée and turned away so she wouldn't see it."
Coplin said that his neighbor dialed 911 shortly thereafter.
"It's utterly horrific," Coplin added. "They thought it was a doll at first, but it wasn't."
Though the area surrounding the Zone is filled with expensive, luxurious residences, the Zone itself has become a hotbed of crime and despair.
"Anything can happen around here," Coplin lamented. "We're right down here in the Zone, and anything and everything does happen."
A medical examiner is still conducting an autopsy on the child to determine a cause of death, and police are investigating how and why the child was left abandoned and on fire.
"It's unconscionable," Coplin stated.
As of October 27, about 1,000 people reportedly sleep in the Zone on any given night, and the city's homeless population has swelled to nearly 3,100, a rise of about 30% since 2020, when the homeless population was about 2,380.