A Baby is Dead After Being Found With His Homeless Mother at a Portland Bus Stop

The child lived less than 24 hours and never had a name.

Portland snowstorm on Jan. 11, 2017. (Joe Riedl)

A Portland baby is dead after being found last week in freezing temperatures with his homeless mother in a bus stop along Southeast Powell Boulevard.

The infant, found Jan. 9, marks the fifth death on Portland's streets during the cold weather this year.

Four homeless people died of exposure in the first 10 days of 2017. A week after the baby was found, it's still unclear whether he died of exposure hours after being born outdoors or was stillborn.

But the circumstances of the child's death illustrate that much of the tragedy on Portland's streets involves untreated mental illness.

The details of the infant's death are found in a Portland police report obtained by WW.

Story update: Mayor calls baby's death "a damnation of our response" to mental illness.

Shortly before 6 am on Jan. 9, officers from the Portland Police Bureau responded to an alarming scene at a TriMet bus stop at Southeast 91st Avenue and Powell Boulevard.

A homeless woman pushing a shopping cart had opened her coat to show a man on his way to work that she held a newborn baby.

Seeing that the woman was barefoot and only partly clothed, the man told her to cover the baby.

He then called 911.

The 911 operator texted details to officers who were on their way to help. (Clarification: this story originally said the text messages came from "first responders." WW regrets the error.)

"Baby was born in a transient camp near Chuck E. Cheese," the text message said. (There's a Chuck E. Cheese at 9120 Southeast Powell Blvd.)

The birth occurred hours earlier, officers learned, and the baby had remained outside in weather that hovered around freezing. The texts indicated the baby was alive.

"Baby is conscious and breathing okay, but has been outside this entire time," read a second text from the 911 operator. "Baby is ice cold."

An ambulance rushed the child to Oregon Health & Science University hospital, escorted by a squad car with its siren blaring.

At the hospital, officers interviewed the baby's mother, 34.

As two emergency room doctors worked to resuscitate the baby, records show, the woman told police a disjointed story.

She said she'd gotten pregnant "by the miracle of immaculate conception" and she struggled to answer basic questions about her address, ethnicity or where the baby was born.

"It was very clear to me she was very mentally ill," Officer Justin Raphael wrote in his police report.

Related: Portland Woman Who Died of Hypothermia Was Evicted for Being Late on $338 in Rent.

While the police spoke to the mother, hospital staff continued to perform CPR, part of a 25-minute effort to save the child.

"Around this time, OHSU personnel notified me that they were going to cease life saving efforts on the newborn," Raphael wrote. "The newborn was pronounced dead at 0641 hours."

Police tried to find out more about the circumstances of the baby's death but immediately encountered a discrepancy.

Child abuse Det. Robert Harley said in his report that the Oregon State Medical Examiner's office said the baby—then still at OHSU—was stillborn.

Dr. Sarah Blackmon and Dr. David Sheridan, two pediatric emergency room physicians who'd tried to save the child, disputed that conclusion.

"Dr. Sheridan told me it appeared to him the child was born at about 32 weeks," Harley wrote in his report. "Dr. Sheridan told me the child appeared to 'be viable.'"

If the baby died of exposure or of other causes, police would investigate. But if the child were stillborn, they would not.

The state medical examiner, Dr. Karin Gunson, later disagreed with the OHSU doctors’ assessment of the baby’s condition.

“After an autopsy, we determined that the baby was stillborn,” Tom Chappelle, an investigator for the medical examiner’s office told WW Monday afternoon. “Dr. Gunson did the autopsy herself.”

Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says the police bureau did not report the baby’s death to the public because the agency was still waiting for clarity on the cause of death.

After being contacted by WW, Simpson checked with child-abuse detectives, who were unaware the autopsy was complete. He says with Gunson’s decision, the case is closed.

“The medical examiner ultimately is the one who tells us,” he says, “whether the determination was ‘stillborn’ or ‘homicide.'”

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