It’s doubtful the baby ever had a name.
He was killed less than a day after he was born.
Police don’t know where that was – it could have been in a car, maybe a cheap motel, maybe a closet.
He was thrown out of a car, and found hours later
along the side of Canady Pond Road, on the south side of Cumberland County, at about 2 p.m. March 3, 1999.
A soldier and his younger brother were looking for their aunt’s house and noticed a black plastic bag blowing in the breeze. They saw something that looked like a baby doll but stopped anyway. It was too late for CPR, so they called 911.
The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office responded, and they were immediately shocked and sickened – not at the sight of the baby, but at the thought of a mother who could do such a thing.
The autopsy painted a chilling picture. The baby was not stillborn – he was born healthy, and the mother did not abuse drugs or alcohol. Within hours of birth, he was beaten to death and then thrown from a speeding car.
Years have passed since the incident, but the infant’s picture is still posted in elevators at the sheriff’s office. Many officers say they still think of him every day.
They named him Michael, after the patron saint of law enforcement.
They had a funeral for him, bought him a casket and clothes in which he was buried. A sheriff’s star is engraved on his black granite tombstone.
When Pennica came on as head of homicide, he took a hard look at the evidence in the case. There wasn’t much, but he found something that had the potential to break the case wide open. The placenta had a blood clot on the side – the mother’s. A DNA profile was put into CODIS, the combined DNA index system.
The database, maintained by the FBI, holds nearly 4.3 million names, most of convicted felons, some unknown perpetrators of crimes.
The profile confirmed what police already thought they knew but told them little else. The mother was white, but could be Hispanic or American Indian. She wasn’t on drugs.
Police try not to assume too much about who Michael's mother is, or whether she is the only person responsible for murdering the child.
But it’s hard to avoid speculating what was going through her mind that day.
It very likely could have been panic. The site where Michael was discarded is close to a county landfill, and investigators learned it was closed that day. If baby Michael was thrown away there, Pennica admits, police likely never would have discovered him.
The alternative is chilling: the unimaginable callousness of a murderer who just doesn’t care.
Despite the years that have passed, people at the sheriff’s office maintain hope that one day the murder will be solved. They have the DNA, and they know only one phone call could break the case. And they await that call. A secret like that can’t stay hidden.