Reaching out. Transfer station workers respond to infant’s death
The close-knit group of workers who discovered the body of a newborn girl at the Eastern Regional Transfer Station last week have rallied together in the days since to give the tiny girl what she lacked in life – family.
Initially shocked and distraught by the gruesome discovery, within a day the workers had put aside the anger they had toward the parents of the infant and adopted the child who they now call their angel.
“I can’t say I’m angry,” said Juan, the worker who found the newborn last week. “I don’t know the problems they (the baby’s parents) were having.”
Juan, who asked only to be identified by his first name, is not alone in his feelings. Not only do the workers who found the girl feel no anger toward her parents, but they have prayed for them to get help, said Ron Hall, of the Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy.
“They’ve taken the situation and looked at it from another angle,” said Hall. “They’ve adopted this baby under their wings. They’re not judgmental of the mother. There is no anger toward her. ‘We cannot judge this lady, we need to pray for her,’ is what one of the workers told everyone.”
For Juan and the other workers at the transfer station the day began as usual at 7 a.m. last Monday as they began to sort through garbage looking for recyclable materials. Shortly after 9:30 a.m., however, work came to a halt following the discovery of the infant.
Positioned at the number two station, Juan was picking through garbage when he opened a trash bag containing the infant’s body.
“I touched the bag and feel something
inside. I say to myself, ‘what’s that’ because it feels funny,” explained Juan in broken English. “So I open the bag and the baby she falls out. I thought it was a toy, plastic. It was so beautiful.”
When he turned what he thought was a doll over, Juan discovered it was a newborn girl.
“It (the conveyor belt) was moving too fast, I couldn’t do anything. So, I yell down the line at the workers to stop the line. We stop the line and everyone comes to see what’s happening. The ladies they start crying and everybody’s in shock. Everyone had tears in their eyes,” said Juan, his own eyes filling with tears. “I never seen nothing like that. She was such a beautiful baby.”
Within minutes the workers had been taken off the line, and the nearly 20 employees convened in a meeting room while they waited for investigators from the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. According to Juan, the men and women who worked on the line were shocked and distraught over the discovery. Many were openly sobbing, but no one spoke about what had happened.
The normally happy group of workers who spend their days picking out recyclable materials from tons of garbage now nervously open each bag of trash, said Juan.
“Everybody got nervous, everybody was feeling bad,” he said. “We were scared to open the bags now. People were complaining of headaches, stomach hurting, everybody felt sick.”
Getting back to the day-to-day routine of working on the line was hard, said Juan, but he credits the chaplains and their support for helping the workers deal with the situation.
“They are such good people,” he said. “I don’t know what we would have done without them.”
Hall and other members of the chaplaincy program meet with workers last Tuesday to counsel them and encourage them to talk about what had happened.
“We wanted to get them to try to express their feelings that they’re maybe trying to bury. Denial, anger, bitterness, these are deep symptoms we seeing in dealing with this until they get to acceptance,” said chaplain Steve Ause. “The worst thing is to leave it unaddressed.”
What was important to the deeply religious workers, said Hall, was that the baby receive a proper burial, a proper ending to her life. A memorial service and burial were held Tuesday in Truckee for the baby girl who was given the name Guadalupe, after a Catholic saint, by the workers who found her. The workers will also erect a monument to the infant at the materials recovery center.
“They’ve been able to see the good come out of a very, very tragic situation,” said operations manager Kevin Delaney. “It gives me hope.”
The baby was discovered during the routine sorting and separating of recyclable materials from garbage brought to the transfer station from Squaw Valley. Delaney initially identified the garbage as originating from Squaw Valley and Sgt. Bill Langton of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office later verified its origin. The cause of death had not yet been determined as of press time, though it is believed that the infant died within 72 hours of being discovered last Monday, according to Langton.
As the chaplains continue to help the workers deal with the tragedy in the coming weeks, they also hope that the mother will call them anonymously.
“We are really concerned about her condition,” said chaplain Sandi Clifford. “We just want her to call. She doesn’t have to give her name.”
Clifford said the mother can call the Placer County chaplaincy at (916) 663-2427 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. Translators are available if she speaks Spanish.
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