Infant Abductions from Hospitals Follow Traditional Pattern and Profile

Although abductions of newborns from hospitals are unusual and the number has dropped in recent decades, they do happen regularly and they almost always involve a woman who has taken a baby to present as her own to try to save a failing relationship with a man, experts say.

All told, 118 newborns have been abducted from hospitals since 1983, with five still missing, said John Rabun, vice president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Nationwide, Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta has had the most babies abducted during the last 20 years - five, said Rabun, who attended Mercer University and has visited both Grady and The Medical Center of Central Georgia, the scene of an abduction Monday.

Rabun said the longest period since 1950 when there were no abductions of newborns - 18 months - ended in January when a baby was unsuccessfully snatched from a hospital nursery in Camden, Ark. Although about 10 or so infants were taken from hospitals each year during the 1980s, when a detailed study started, the number dropped to between one and five a year during the 1990s, the center's statistics show.

Abductions include any situation in which the child is removed from the room where it is supposed to be, so the list includes cases in which the kidnapping attempt was foiled inside the hospital.

Among high-profile infant kidnappings from hospitals in the last few years:

-- A 2004 kidnapping from Fort Logan Hospital in Stanford, Ky., when a woman dressed in scrubs took a baby from its tired mother in the middle of the night and was later caught after the baby was found abandoned 150 miles away.

-- A woman claiming to be a nurse taking a baby to be circumcised was caught a few blocks from the Salt Lake City hospital in 2004.

-- A baby was stolen from Newark (N.J.) Beth Israel hospital in 2003 while the mother showered.

-- A 2000 abduction of a premature baby from a hospital in a Chicago suburb ended in the baby's death after he was hidden in a clothes hamper.

Although the cases are rare, Rabun said they tend to have a larger psychological effect on the community, and the civil-suit awards that result are often huge.

The people who commit these crimes almost always fit the same profile: They are women between the ages of 20 and 35 who have told their husband or boyfriend they are pregnant in order to keep him from leaving, Rabun said. When the due date approaches, they steal a baby from the nearest hospital.

Rabun said the perpetrators almost always pose as a hospital employee and interact with the mother as they steal the baby, which is generally taken from the mother's room, where it spends the most time.

About 7 percent of these kidnappings involve violence against the mother, according to the center.

"This is a con game," Rabun said. "She usually cons her way through life. ... Her needs are above the community, above the mother and dad, above the hospital. It's all about her: 'I need a baby right now.' "

It is rare that the kidnapper is actually unable to have children, Rabun said. He estimated that 85 percent of the time, the woman has a child already. Often, she was actually pregnant at one time and miscarried.

Before the abducted child in Macon was found Monday night, Rabun guessed, based on the typical pattern in these cases, that the person who took the baby was within four miles of the hospital. As it turned out, the baby and a teenage girl that Macon police charged with kidnapping Monday night were found on Hawthorne Street, just a few blocks from the Medical Center.

Babies are most often stolen from what Rabun called "county general hospitals" such as the Medical Center that serve a high number of low-income residents.

For every successful abduction from a hospital, dozens are thwarted, Rabun said. The Medical Center's security cameras and digitized ID tags, which notified employees that the baby had left the maternity ward and then the hospital, are key technologies many county hospitals don't have, he said.

However, the ID bracelet should sound a loud alert when the baby leaves the ward and cause the doors of the ward or the elevators to lock, he said.

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