Española approves Safe Haven ‘baby box’ days after infant was thrown in dumpster

New Mexico News

ESPAÑOLA, N.M. (KRQE) – Just days after an infant was rescued from a dumpster, another New Mexico city is making sure it doesn’t happen again. Española is getting New Mexico’s first “baby box,” allowing for infants to be safely surrendered, anonymously.

For more than two years, the City of Española has worked to get Safe Haven baby boxes in public buildings. Now, they’re taking the final steps to make them a reality. “We are finally at the point where we’re going to install our first baby box in the Española Fire Station and we are thrilled about that,” said Javier Sanchez, mayor of Española. “We’re getting more awareness about what the reality is out there in the world.”

The project has been years in the making, getting the thousands of dollars needed for New Mexico’s first Safe Haven baby box. The boxes would be a place where babies can safely be surrendered to first responders, anonymously.

“Our attorneys have finalized the last ticking points that we were concerned with,” said Sanchez. “I think that we are now really on solid ground to have our city managers sign that in to get it going and we can start going from here.”

This comes just days after 18-year-old Alexis Avila is accused of tossing her newborn into a dumpster in Hobbs. Police say she later told them she didn’t know she was pregnant until she gave birth, not knowing where to turn.

“She explained on Friday, January 7th, she experienced stomach pain and unexpectedly gave birth,” said August Fons, interim chief of the Hobbs Police Department. “She further explained that she panicked and did not know what to do or who to call.”

That infant — left in the cold for six hours — was finally rescued and is now being treated in a Lubbock Hospital. Española first responders say they were disappointed to hear it happened again, as it was not their first experience.

“It happened here, we found a baby in the trash, and to hear it happened again is devastating,” said John Wickersham, assistant fire chief of the Española Fire Department. “It broke our hearts.”

That child’s death was three years ago in Rio Arriba County. Shortly after, it inspired their push to get the Safe Haven box installed in the community. “They’re temperature-regulated, they have alarm systems that go off and notify us when we’re not there,” said Wickersham. “We respond within three minutes.”

In light of what happened in Hobbs, Sanchez reached out to the mayor there. Now, they’re hoping to work with other leaders to bring these anonymous safe haven options to fire stations across the state.

“I called the mayor in Hobbs and he was telling me a little bit about the situation and what’s going on,” said Sanchez. “As we got to talking, we said, we need to put one of these in all of our cities. We decided we’ll bring this up at our next mayor’s conference so we can talk to all of the mayors who are interested and we can roll this out in more than just one location.”

The Safe Haven boxes cost $20,000 each to install. After that, the lease with the company costs $200 per year. The city is accepting community donations for costs. Española attorneys just approved the agreement with the company and are finalizing details with the city council. It could be installed as early as March.

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