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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
NYPD officers carry the casket of baby who was found dead in a garbage can for the funeral service at Most Precious Blood Church in Astoria on April 21.

The silence weighed heavy in the air as nearly 100 police officers and dozens of local residents stood in front of Most Precious Blood Church in Astoria on April 21 and watched the rear door of the hearse open.

Inside, the all-white casket was the size of a large shoebox — so small that it had to be placed on a platform to be carried into the church. The four pall bearers, each of whom are officers from the 114th Precinct, never met the child.

In fact, no one attending the funeral ever did.

The baby boy being laid to rest that day was found dead in a garbage can at Dutch Kills Playground on Feb. 17, and since that time, no family member came forward to claim the child. Thanks to the efforts of the NYPD and the AMT Children of Hope Foundation — which covered the cost of the funeral — the boy gained a spiritual family during the funeral procession and hour-long mass that brought people from the local community and across the borough together in mourning.

“This is his family, right here in this church,” said Bishop Raymond Chappetto during the service. “His family has surrounded him today with love, with prayer, and with the promise that the community will treasure his memory.”

Now known as Dutch James Hope, the boy is only believed to have been a few weeks old at the time of his death. According to Timothy Jaccard, a paramedic for the Nassau County Police Department and founder of the AMT Children of Hope Foundation, the local community named the baby after the playground where he was found.

“Hope” is the last name given to all of the babies that Jaccard’s foundation has laid to rest at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, New York, and Dutch James was the 139th, Jaccard said.

In nearly two decades since the foundation was formed, however, it has saved the lives of 3,669 babies, Jaccard said. His passion for this cause arose during 1998 and 1999, when Jaccard responded to four calls regarding babies found not breathing in a matter of weeks.

He also wrote the Abandoned Infant Protection Act to save the lives of unwanted newborns; the act was ultimately approved by the state legislature and became law. First enacted in 2000, the law was amended in 2010 to ensure that parents who abandon their infant in a safe way as prescribed by law will not be held criminally liable.

In 2017, the foundation helped save the lives of 26 babies, and four have been saved in 2018 so far.

Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS

Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS

“With the news coverage when we have these funerals, we have some woman call in desperation after seeing it, and that winds up actually rescuing a baby,” Jaccard said. “All 139 babies that we have buried have rescued at least one child.”

During the Mass, parish member Martha Caraballo helped carry the Eucharist to the priest, and reflected afterward on how much different this felt than any other mass and the impact it had on the community.

“The circumstances under which it happened and everything, and in our neighborhood, it’s a lot more touching,” Caraballo said. “It just shows a real good unity within the community that something like this brings us together.”

Even those who attended from other parts of the borough felt the same sentiment. Michael Naumowicz, a member of the 104th Precinct Civilian Observation Patrol covering Ridgewood and surrounding neighborhoods, remembered shedding a tear when he first heard the news about the child back in February.

His reaction to seeing so many people come to honor Dutch James Hope showed just how fitting that last name is.

“Seeing the community come together as it did today, it actually gives me a lot of hope that there is a lot of good in the world,” Naumowicz said. “It’s just a great belonging feeling.”

Police continue to search for Dutch James’ mother; they are offering up to a $2,500 reward for any information that could help the investigation. Call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS with any information; all calls are kept confidential.

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