Saving The Smallest Victims

Angelica was a beautiful baby. “She was perfect,” says Carmen Collazo, a 28-year-old police officer with the Eighty-third Precinct in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. “She had very dark hair, straight, but with a little bit of a curl at the ends. She had all ten fingers, all ten toes. She was lovely.

I’ll never forget that face,” adds fellow officer Jane Penney, 33. It was Penney who responded to a 911 call and pulled the five-and-a-half-pound newborn from a Dumpster outside a local bodega. On the way to the hospital, she performed CPR. “The baby was cold,” Penney remembers. “Cold and stiff and blue, so I knew … but still, you have to try.”

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At Wycoff Heights Medical Center, Penney and Collazo — who’d answered a 911 call from the hospital and was already there, waiting — held hands and prayed as doctors tried to breathe life back into Angelica’s tiny body. But after frantically working for 45 minutes, they saw it was no use. On March 18, at 10:45 A.M., the little girl was pronounced dead.

Penney thought of her own little girls, ages 5 and 3, and then of the child who would soon be buried in an anonymous grave. Penney hadn’t been able to save her life, but she and Collazo decided there were two things they could do — give her a name and a proper burial. It was Collazo who came up with the name: Angelica Evergreen. They got a public administrator to appoint them the baby’s guardians, and they bought a bracelet with her name on it. Fellow officers gave her a christening gown to be buried in. Donations were also made by the cemetery, funeral home, and florist.

Pictures taken by the precinct photo unit show the sleek black limousine that carried Angelica’s little white coffin from the funeral home to the church where her solemn funeral Mass was celebrated. What they don’t show is Penney punching a wall when the doctors pronounced Angelica dead or a weeping Collazo taking the rosary beads from Angelica’s casket and slipping them around her own neck. Like all police officers, they’ve been trained to contain their emotions; but when you talk to them about Angelica, and other children who’ve been made to suffer, their sorrow, anger, and frustration are palpable.

“I just don’t appreciate people throwing babies in Dumpsters,” says Penney. “I see so many kids being neglected, sexually abused, beaten, burned. I always seem to get the cases involving children, and I take each one to heart.”

“You wouldn’t believe the circumstances in which these children live,” Collazo adds. “It’s not a crime to be poor; I grew up in the projects myself. But there’s no excuse for mattresses on the floor and maggots crawling out of the refrigerator.”

Social service agencies that handle such cases make strenuous efforts to keep children and police officers from forming bonds of affection. “But you can’t help it; you get attached,” says Penney, who tells of station-house officers buying toys for kids or taking them out for pancakes or pizza. Last year, she and Collazo had to remove a little boy from an abusive home the day before he was to graduate from kindergarten. After cutting through miles of red tape, the officers were granted custody of the child long enough to take him to the ceremony and then throw him a party — with presents.

There will be no kindergarten graduation for Angelica. But Collazo and Penney have petitioned their superiors to let them start a child-abuse prevention program that might help save the next Angelica. Or the next. “Not that you can change the world, but you try,” says Penney. “You have to keep trying.”

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