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South Bend cop who helped an abandoned baby meets him 23 years later — all grown up and in a familiar uniform
South Bend Police Department

South Bend cop who helped an abandoned baby meets him 23 years later — all grown up and in a familiar uniform

A baby boy was discarded in the hallway of an apartment complex in South Bend, Indiana, just days before Christmas 2000. Gene Eyster, one of the police officers who dealt with the case and did his part to provide the boy with some comfort while in the hospital, long wondered about the child's fate.

A few weeks ago, the now-retired police lieutenant was not only provided with an update but with an outstretched hand. The boy he had helped, now a man, had done more than survive. He thrived.

South Bend Police Department

'Baby Boy Doe'

The South Bend Tribune reported on Dec. 23, 2000, that a newborn baby had been discovered in the hallway of a Park Jefferson apartment building after midnight. A nearby resident, Christian Rowe, heard the child crying.

"I looked down the hallway and saw a box sitting there," said Rowe.

Rowe indicated he and his friend found a newborn shivering inside a small box, wearing a sleeping outfit and wrapped in blue-green blankets.

"I didn't know what to think," said Rowe. "We brought it inside the apartment to keep it warm."

Rowe and his friend called police, who rushed to the scene with an ambulance in tow.

"It's a heartbreaker for us," said then-Sgt. Ian McQueen of the SBPD's Major Crimes Unit.

According to the SBPD, responding officers roped then-Sgt. Gene Eyster into the investigation, who immediately began seeking answers for the following questions: "How did the baby get there? Was he kidnapped? Was it intentional? Is anyone looking for him?"

Eyster told the Tribune, "Initial examination indicated it may have been a home delivery."

"I want to find the mother and make sure she's OK," said Eyster. "After that, we'll let the chips fall where they fall. ... The priority is care and concern for the child, then the mother, and lastly if there's any criminal intent."

The SBPD indicated that Eyster worked with local media outlets to spread the word about the boy, often referred to in reports as "Baby Boy Doe."

"'Baby Doe' sounded so cruel," said Eyster. "So ... I started calling him 'Baby Jesus' since it was so close to Christmas."

South Bend Police Department

With the hunt underway for answers about the boy's origin, Eyster went out and bought a teddy bear to keep the child company in his hospital crib.

Eyster recently told CBS News that the bear was "just a symbol to let everyone that walked past know that he was cared about."

A subsequent report indicated the baby was found to be in good health and was believed to have been between three and seven days old when left in the entrance to the apartment building.

The mother who abandoned the child after a home delivery later turned herself in to police.

After the boy's medical examination, police indicated he was released to Child Protective Services whose division director at the time indicated there would be some kind of foster-care placement.

In the decades that followed, Eyster wondered what had become of the child, especially whenever he would pass the Park Jefferson apartment complex. There was no finding out, however, since the records were sealed.

South Bend Police Department

Blast from the past

According to SBPD, Eyster, who recently lost his only son, received a call from Officer Josh Morgan last month.

"Gene," said Morgan. "You aren't going to believe this."

Eyster indicated that he remembered virtually everything from his time on the force, especially the case of the abandoned baby at Christmastime.

"He's sitting next to me right now," said Morgan. "He's my rookie!"

"Baby Boy Doe" evidently grew up to become SBP Officer Matthew Hegedus-Stewart.

The department indicated that Morgan pieced together parts of the puzzle after his rookie had mentioned his adoption in infancy and his abandonment when responding to a call regarding a similar incident.

Morgan pulled the thread further, tracking down the original case report, then identifying Eyster as the lead investigator.

On March 22, Eyster met Hegedus-Stewart, noting, "You're a little bit bigger now."

CBS News indicated that Hegedus-Stewart now wears the same uniform Eyster did and patrols the exact same neighborhood.

The SBPD suggested that the rookie "has to wonder if, even subconsciously, this experience motivated him to want to pursue law enforcement."

The rookie told the retired lieutenant in person, "Thank you for everything you did for me."

South Bend Police Department

Hegedus-Stewart told CBS News it was a "full-circle moment that hit home."

Eyster noted that the timing of the reunion, just months after his son's unexpected passing at the age of 36, "couldn't have been any better to help fill a void that I've had to deal with."

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Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News.
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