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Police arrest mother after baby found in toilet

Jessica Blackham. Photo Source:WYFF Jessica Blackham. Photo Source:WYFF

GREENVILLE, SC (WIS) - Authorities have arrested a woman they say left the infant she had just delivered in a toilet at a South Carolina sports and concert arena.

Police Chief Terri Wilfong says the 25-year-old woman from Easley is a married mother of a 4-year-old. Authorities say Jessica Blackham was arrested on Tuesday night after she came to the Greenville police station accompanied by family members.

She is charged with two counts of felony child abuse and one count of unlawful neglect toward a child. If convicted on all charges, she could face up to 50 years in prison.

Officials said they could not immediately explain what Blackham may have been thinking when she gave birth Friday night at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville while attending a circus performance.

Wilfong says the infant's prognosis is good.

Investigators scoured security video tapes from the arena, which hosted a circus Friday night. They were asking for help from those who know someone who had been pregnant but no longer seemed to be, said Sgt. Jason Rampey of the Greenville Police.

"We've gotten a number of tips," about the identity of the woman who apparently the delivered the 6-pound boy in a women's restroom, Rampey said. "We are following up on them as they come in."

The baby was suffering Friday night from hypothermia, which an expert said is one of the biggest risks for babies born away from medical care. The condition could lead to infection or breathing problems if not treated quickly.

"When a baby is moist and has exposure of its skin to the air, it will lose heat very rapidly," said Dr. Christopher Robinson, a fetal and maternal medicine professor at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

An untreated new mother could suffer bleeding from unseen cuts in the birth canal. Her mental health is also a concern. "Here we probably have a frightened mother who may have poor coping skills and may have a lack of social support, and she's at real risk for depression at this point," Robinson said. "Obviously this is a person who is in a very difficult social situation and may be very frightened and may not totally be aware of what has happened at the time."

Roger Newton, president and general manager of the 13-year-old Bi-Lo Center in downtown Greenville, said he'd never encountered such an incident in his 33 years of managing arenas from Ottawa, Canada, to Miami, Florida.

The manager said he'd had to deal with a death during his career, but never a birth. He said the cleaning crew deserved high praise for their handling of the matter and quickly calling authorities.

"They did everything they should have, and we're very proud of them," he said.

Residents in this conservative region said they were shocked by the boy's discovery and concerned about both mother and child.

"It's unfortunate that anyone has to go that far, and wouldn't know what to do," said Lorna Sexton, 54, of nearby Taylors. "It broke my heart to hear it. Let's hope the girl, the woman, is able to get some help."

Sexton said she'd read about the case in the paper, and that people had been talking about it at the coffee shop where she works.

Rampey said the infant was admitted to Greenville Memorial Hospital in critical condition. Evidence in the women's bathroom indicated the baby was born there.

Rampey said officials put out a plea for help from the public to help identify the mother and child after investigators searched through surveillance tapes. The video checks were difficult because thousands of people attended the circus, he said.

Police were referring inquiries about adopting the newborn to DSS, Rampey said.

Related story:

SC police seek ID of mom of newborn left in arena

Copyright 2011 WIS. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.

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