The abandoned baby: A 7 On Your Side exclusive
WASHINGTON (ABC7) —
On a cold March night off Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk, a passerby nearly stepped on what she thought was just a filthy towel.
Then she heard a baby scream, saw a tiny leg kick out of the towel, and couldn't help but notice a piece of red yarn tied around the newborn's navel.
The woman picked up the bundle and rushed her into the nearby hospital.
"It's shocking to me," said Donna Massie Wysong, re-reading the details printed in news articles from March 14, 1973.
"I did question how someone could leave a baby, who was just born, on the side of the road in a dirty rag in the middle of winter."
Wysong was that abandoned baby.
News of "Baby Jane Doe" caused a sensation four decades ago. Television news cameras were allowed into the nursery at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters. And Eileen Massie was one of thousands of Virginians captivated by the blond-haired, blue-eyed Baby Doe, with a tiny dimple in her left cheek.
"The news cameras zoomed in on her in the nursery. I said, 'She is a beauty! That's our baby. That has to be our baby!'" exclaimed Massie.
Massie and her husband, the assistant city manager, had a 5-year-old son at the time, and they had talked about wanting another child.
"I just felt it was divine intervention almost," said Massie.
She called Social Services several times a week, inquiring about the abandoned baby. She was told that hundreds of families were interested in adopting her as well. Nearly two months passed, and Massie decided she needed to make one final and special plea to the social worker.
"I said, 'I'm telling you, my husband and I talked, and we want this baby regardless of her condition, regardless of any health problems. We want her, and we'll take care of her, and love her.'"
The Massies got their baby, and named her Donna.
"I think it's amazing that someone would stick out their neck and want a baby that you don't know the condition of," said Wysong. "I think it's amazing, and it's a really big deal."
Because of all the publicity and the high interest in adopting the baby, the Massies were advised to keep their two-month-old daughter's story a secret.
"My dad always said my dimple was a kiss from an angel before I fell out of heaven," said Wysong. "And I believed it!"
When Wysong was a teenager, her adoptive mother took her to the library to read about Baby Jane Doe. Wysong shared the news with some of her friends. A few years later, she thought about participating in the television show "Unsolved Mysteries," but Wysong worried about who might come out of the woodwork. Besides, she was happy with her family, her upbringing, the love they gave her, and did not want to disrupt what she considered an enormous blessing.
But then in July of 2015, another baby girl, this one in Maryland, was left by her birth mother on the side of the road. Massie saw the story in the news, and posted a public comment about it.
"I said that was me," said Wysong. "And I'll take that baby girl if no one else will."
Friends in Northern Virginia who had known Wysong for years were shocked and amazed, not knowing that their friend was once known as Baby Jane Doe.
The Maryland newborn's mother was found and charged with neglect and endangerment. She would not have been, had she left the baby in a hospital or fire station, designated as a 'safe place'. Safe Haven laws have encouraged thousands of birth mothers to legally and safely surrender their babies without fear of prosecution. But illegal abandonments still happen, to the peril of newborns.
Since Safe Haven laws were passed in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, 11 babies were relinquished safely, and they all survived. But of the 54 newborns who were abandoned illegally, two-thirds of them died.
"I think I'm lucky," said Wysong. "It was March, it was cold. Who knows what could have happened."
Wysong gave 7 ON YOUR SIDE permission to inquire about her case with the hospital staff and police department detectives that were involved at the time. Nurses described Baby Doe to the Ledger-Star newspaper as a "darling little girl and one that everyone wants."
The birth mother, who let her go, was never found. Yet Wysong believes the woman wanted the baby she left on the ground in a towel to be found.
"I can't imagine how she must feel," said Wysong. "I would think it would hurt your heart forever. Don't you?"
But Wysong said there are no holes in her heart. She's married with two sons of her own, living in Alexandria.
For as long as she can remember, she has felt wanted. Not abandoned.