By Bill Parry
A gasp from the crowd assembled on the steps at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church in Astoria could be heard over the pealing bells as the tiny white casket was removed from the hearse and placed on a wooden platform.
Nearly 100 officers from the 114th Precinct in Astoria and the 108th Precinct in Long Island City joined emergency responders, Nassau County Police and community leaders Saturday to help give a proper funeral for the newborn boy who was discovered dead and wrapped in plastic in a garbage can at Dutch Kills Playground March 17.
As four pallbearers from the 114th carried the casket up the church steps, the police officers saluted stoically, their eyes fixated on the miniature white coffin
“Whenever it’s a baby it tugs at anyone’s heartstrings, especially police officers,” Deputy Inspector Osvaldo Nunez, the commander of the 114th Precinct, said. “When it’s a child even the most hardened officers take it to heart.”
No one ever came forward to claim the child, so The Children of Hope Foundation, a non-profit started by paramedics working for the Nassau County Police Department, took custody, named him Baby Dutch James Hope, and paid for the funeral expenses.
Once the funeral mass got underway, Father Vedran Kirincic, gazed from the altar toward the rows filled with police and said, “We see that this funeral is different, not only because of the age of this child, but something that goes beyond age and that is innocence. The child is innocent in the eyes of God and there is nothing more beautiful than Baby Dutch James Hope.”
Bishop Raymond Chappetto, who was born and raised in Astoria, looked over the crowd and smiled.
“This is his family, right here in this church,” he said during the mass. “His family has surrounded him with love, with prayer, and with the promise that the community will treasure his memory.”
Baby Dutch James Hope became the 139th abandoned child to be laid to rest at the Holy Road Cemetery in Westbury since The Children of Hope Foundation began operating in 1999, according to its founder, Capt. Timothy Jaccard, who spoke during the funeral mass.
“For every child that we’ve buried, and we’ve had to do that 139 times which is painful, others have been rescued,” Jaccard said. “Because of the media attention, other desperate women out there may call a crisis hotline instead. More than 3,669 babies have been rescued since we started.”
That message resonated with Al Perna, the founder and president of the Corona Community Ambulance Corps, who attended with a half dozen members of his team.
“It’s all very sad When I first heard about the baby discovered at Dutch Kills, I was heartbroken,” Perna said. “But that baby has a family today and we hope that this funeral raises the awareness of the next person who feels lost, afraid, hurt or has the feeling that she can’t have that child. There are people who can help in these situations.”
Jaccard helped draft New York’s Safe Haven Law, which allows a parent to leave a child 30 days or younger with an appropriate person or a suitable location, such as a hospital, police station, firehouse or church where the parent promptly notifies an appropriate person of the child’s location. A parent who wishes to leave a child can call the Safe Haven Hotline in New York at 1-877-796-HOPE and the child will be picked up by child care workers. All calls to the crisis line are kept strictly confidential. The foundation members are not counselors, they are crisis intervention professionals who are trained to assist in finding callers the help they need.
Once the funeral mass came to a close, Baby Dutch James Hope was given an escort by members of The Blue Knights motorcycle club and vehicles from the NYPD and the Nassau County Police Department for the funeral procession to Holy Road Cemetery.
“I’m not surprised, but the beauty, the dignity, the love that the NYPD offered this child is so very moving,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “It’s an unspeakable tragedy what this baby endured, but the fact that they went to such lengths to give this child what he didn’t have in life is something that I will never forget. It’s just so decent to send him off in this way, which is so different than how he died. The NYPD just gave him a state funeral which was so incredibly decent.”
There have been no arrests and the investigation is ongoing by the 114th Precinct’s Detective Squad and the Queens North Homicide Detective Squad. There is a $2,500 reward for anyone who provides information on who left Baby Dutch James Hope in the trash can at Dutch Kills Playground.
Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr