‘Baby Found in Dumpster’

Linda ZnachkoBy Linda ZnachkoJanuary 2, 202316 Minutes

Book Excerpt Taken from He Knows Your Name: How One Abandoned Baby Inspired Me to Say Yes to God by Linda Znachko


“Baby Found in Dumpster”

“Breaking News: Baby Found in Dumpster.”

I sat dumbfounded in front of my computer, struggling to make sense of the words scrolling across the online news site. I’d just come inside from the crisp October chill and shuddered at the thought of a child having been abandoned to the elements to die.

“Baby Doe wearing only a diaper.”

The words seemed like nonsense, and I was unable to process them.

Other words settled into my heart:

Doe is not a name.
A dumpster is not a grave.
A diaper is not burial clothing.

The video accompanying the news story showed police investigating the industrial dumpster where a couple, searching for scrap metal, had found a baby’s body earlier in the day. The masks worn by the gloved professionals weren’t enough to disguise the sadness on their faces. A twisting blue light flashed above a squad car. Yellow caution tape stretched across the downtown parking lot, keeping curious onlookers from getting in the way.

What I was feeling, however, was far more than curiosity. As my heart began to quicken I recognized the nudge of the Holy Spirit, prompting me to act. God had been training me for years to follow in faith by taking one small step at a time. Although I could never predict what God had in store, I knew God was now inviting me to say yes to the Spirit’s unlikely leading.

Quickly scanning for the byline, I called the Indianapolis Star and asked for the journalist who’d reported the story: John Touhy. Perhaps he’d be able to answer my questions.

When he picked up the call, I introduced myself and asked for his help.

“So, what happens to this baby?” I pressed.

In a gravelly voice, he patiently explained that the investigation was now a legal matter.

“The only one who can answer your questions,” he explained, “is the coroner. I’m waiting to hear back from her office right now—Chief Deputy Ballew.”

“I’ll try her. Thank you so much for your help,” I said before hanging up.

Knowing city offices had closed for the night, I would call the next day.

Bedtime Musings

After I had spoken to John Touhy, I explained my strange attachment to this child to my husband, Steve. Though neither one of us could have predicted the absurd unfolding of the day’s events, Steve had always been the person in my life who was more afraid of saying no to God than of agreeing to even the most complicated or unwieldy yes. So, although we had no idea how this child would continue to impact our lives, Steve was quick to lend his support and encouragement.

When I climbed into bed that night, slipping between smooth satin sheets, thoughts of the precious little one continued to pulse through my heart and mind. The words that had so gripped me when I read the jarring news headline still rang in my ears: A dumpster is not a grave.

Grabbing my thick, blue, spiral-bound journal from my nightstand, I scribbled down the facts, writing what I knew as if to try to understand what I did not.

No name.
No funeral.
No burial clothes.
No songs.
No readings.
No blessing to acknowledge that this child did live.

As precious memories from my mother’s funeral, just four months earlier, flooded my mind, I felt as though I was reeling in some alternate universe. The gruesome end of this child’s earthly days suggested that he or she had never lived. But, I insisted to myself, this child had lived. If only growing inside a mother’s womb. This baby lived.

Pressing pen to paper, I continued to process:

A child of God was left to die in a dumpster. He or she was found early Wednesday morning by a couple looking for scrap metal. Looking for scrap, they found the remains of a baby. Buried in a trash heap.

Life and death had been close to my heart over the course of the year. My daughter’s fragile health hung in the balance. At that moment, we didn’t yet know if she would live. And although cancer had ravaged my mother’s body, it had not stolen her dignity. I continued to contrast the lavish funeral she’d received, honoring the inestimable value of her life, with the crude treatment of this precious little one.

“This baby needs a name,” I wrote. “God already knows it because it is, after all, written in the book of life. We just don’t know it yet. But he or she has one, and deserves one.”

Further Digging

The next morning, I waited until just after nine to call the Marion County Coroner’s Office. An administrative assistant fielded some of my questions.

“The body will be disposed of after the case is closed,” she explained.

Her language shocked me. Garbage is disposed of. Babies are not.

“What does ‘disposed of’ mean?” I asked, trying to quell in my voice the rage and sadness I felt inside.

“It means a pauper’s grave . . . a mass grave,” she told me.

A jolt of indignation shot through my body. What?

Now my head was spinning.

In 2009? I’d never imagined such a thing existed right where I live.

I silently vowed, No way. Not if I can do anything about it.

The receptionist told me I’d need to call back later to reach the coroner. So I called throughout the morning until I was able to speak to Chief Deputy Ballew. I explained my intentions, that I was interested in giving the baby a proper burial. She confessed that she’d never received a call like mine before.

“I’d like to be granted the legal right to the child,” I pressed.

“Well  .  .  .” She paused, thinking through my last comment. “I can put your name and number in the file. That way I can call you when the criminal investigation is completed and the case is officially closed.”

The situation was highly unusual and I could tell that Alfarena Ballew was trying to honor my request while upholding the law and doing her job with integrity.

“Promise me,” I begged, “that you will.”

She promised.

In the quiet of my heart, as I hung up the phone, I prayed that God would allow me the privilege to do what my heart was aching and longing to do by honoring and dignifying the life of this child.

Pursuing a Proper Burial

Every Friday, I called Alfie’s office, hoping for a crack in the case. Perhaps there would be some new lead. A shred of evidence. I waited eagerly, hoping this little one would be released into my care.

As the case unfolded in the media, a barrage of local news reports painted a picture of an unknown, heartless mother who disposed of an unwanted child in this callous manner. At night I continued to journal:

I can’t get this mother off my mind. Every day I think about her. I woke up today thinking about how adorable Andrew, my son, was at three months. Chubbiness sets in. Smiles come and babies are sleeping through the night at that age. I wanted my son. I don’t know if anyone ever wanted Baby Doe. Probably not.

As I wrestled to assemble these disparate pieces into a comprehensible whole, I could only imagine that this baby was unwanted. I continued to reflect in my journal:

Being wanted changes everything in the heart of a child or an adult’s life. I see it so often in friends and family members of mine. To be welcomed, adored, and desired versus being an intrusion, an interruption, or a disappointment. We all feel it deeply and it somewhat defines us deep down.

Alfie warned me that a criminal investigation could become quite lengthy—quite unlike the ones solved in sixty minutes on television. This provided plenty of time for the what-if questions, about all I didn’t understand and couldn’t control, to creep into my mind, tempting me to stray from obedience. But, reminding me that I didn’t need to see the future he already saw, God was teaching me to trust him one step at a time: all I needed to do was to walk through the door in front of me. So God gave me small steps to accomplish as I waited to discover the identity of this baby: I called a funeral home to arrange a service; I contacted a cemetery that had served other abandoned babies; I prayed for the woman who’d given birth to the baby found in the dumpster.

All I knew about the baby’s mother was what I’d gleaned from TV. I had no way of knowing whether or not she was the monster others imagined when they watched the evening news. I didn’t know if she’d wanted her child or wanted to get rid of him or her. My instinct told me that whether her child had been planned or unplanned, she would still be grieving. My only certainty was that, whoever she was, God loved her and was filled with overwhelming compassion for her. During the months of waiting, as God continued to soften my heart for this mother, I continued to pour out my thoughts in the pages of my journal:

Baby Doe has a name; I just don’t know it yet. I will meet a grieving mother. I will offer her help. I will tell her she has not been alone this past year. I have waited with her. I have hoped with her that this baby would be given dignity.

And I prayed that God would open a door for me to know her.

I suspect my heart connected so deeply with this mother because I too was grieving—as a mother and as a daughter. I was a grieving daughter, having recently buried my mother. But I was also a mother who was grieving the precarious future of the daughter I loved.

Anna’s terrifying illness, which could easily have snatched her away from our family, had activated both my fierce maternal instincts to protect her and a fiery advocacy on her behalf before the throne of God. These same impulses were unleashed again when this baby’s body was discovered in a dumpster. And they fueled me as I fought to honor the life of that child as if he or she were my own.


How many times had I watched the horrors on the evening news, breathed a quiet prayer for those who suffered, and returned to my life and family? And yet now God’s Spirit was prompting me to step into a stranger’s deepest pain. Had I declined, no one around me would have been the wiser. Had I heeded the internal voice reminding me how awkward it was to be pursuing something that wasn’t my business or my area of expertise, my life would have continued as it was, normal but lacking and slightly broken. But somehow my small yes to making one phone call was opening me up to sense and respond to God’s leading in a fresh new way. Calling me into deeper obedience, God daily assured my heart—in the time we spent together each morning—that his voice was the only one that mattered.

Order a copy of He Knows Your Name: How One Abandoned Baby Inspired Me to Say Yes to God by Linda Znachko