Garden of Innocence to bury more abandoned babies

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Just two months after the first three abandoned infants were buried in the new Garden of Innocence
in Bakersfield, three more babies will be laid to rest there.

The nonprofit group will again hold a service to honor the tiny lives, and local people have given the children names.

The next service will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Historic Union Cemetery. The service is open to the public.

Earlier this year, the cemetery set aside a special area, and it was ready to accept the remains of a baby whose body had been found in a trash can in Oildale in late June. The first service on Sept. 28 buried that little girl and two infant boys. This time three boys will be laid to rest.

"Next Saturday is our second Garden of Innocence service, unfortunately," cemetery general manager Dave Hepburn said. "It's not something that we always want to have happen."

He's grateful the cemetery was able to step forward when the Garden of Innocence founder approached it.

The group said itsmission is to provide "dignified burials for abandoned children." That includes giving each child a name, and a local person is asked to provide that name.

This time, the name "Gatlin" was picked, and it was Hepburn himself to choose "Daniel" for another child.

"It only took me a moment to think of the name," he told Eyewitness News. "Daniel's a real, long traditional name in our family."

And, Hepburn said members of the Union Cemetery family were asked to provide the third name.

"Our grounds crew here has really gotten involved with this Garden," Hepburn said. "We have several Joses, plus Jose is the director of operations, so they named the baby Jose."

Hepburn said the three boys to be laid to rest this week were all not claimed by their families.

"They came through the county," Hepburn explained. "And they were just basically abandoned."

Kern County Sheriff's Commander Justin Fleeman told Eyewitness News that all these infant boys had been stillborn. Fleeman is over the coroner's office. He said the county received the little bodies from various funeral homes, and there was nothing criminal about the deaths.

The Garden of Innocence is an established 501(c)(3), and founder Elissa Davey said they have gardens in more than 20 counties in California, as well as sites in St. Louis and New York.

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Davey told Eyewitness News they need more volunteers. The group's website lists various jobs volunteers can handle to help provide the burial services. The organization also provides things like special wooden urns, and they need volunteers to help make those.

Hepburn said there were about 200 people at the burial for the first three babies in September. That service included a "circle of life," singers and a bagpiper, and several speakers. The three small urns were placed in small grave sites in the special area.

"I've heard so many nice comments since then," Hepburn said.

The deaths are tragic, but the cemetery and the organization are ready to honor the infants and give them a final resting place.

"This is the quicker than I thought we'd have the second round like this," Hepburn said about the service coming up. He said the group does not judge what happened, and why a family did not claim a tiny child who's died.