Feel-Good Friday: A Police Officer Who Rescued a Baby in a Box Reunites With Him 24-Years Later



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There’s something about cops protecting babies that sticks you right in the heart. Here is another story of a local LEO who rescued a child in distress for this week’s Feel-Good Friday—with a twist that gives you even more of The Feels! 

Gene Eyster, a retired police lieutenant, cannot drive past one specific apartment complex here without reliving that strange day 24 years ago.

“That was one of the strangest calls I think I’ve ever had: ‘We have a found baby in a box,'” Eyster, a 47-year veteran of the department, told CBS News. “You always wonder, what happened?”

On December 22, 2000, the South Bend Police Department received a call about a crying baby from a resident who lived near the Park Jefferson Apartment complex. Responding officers found the baby boy lying in a box in the hallway and took him to the hospital. The officers contacted then-Sergeant Eyster, who was part of the Major Crimes Unit.

Eyster said he had a lot of questions when he started the investigation. He enlisted the help of local media to get the word out regarding the abandoned baby who affectionately became known as “Baby Jesus” as he was found so close to Christmas.

The baby’s birth parents were later identified, and the mother was charged with neglect. 

For Eyster, the case of the “Baby Boy Doe,” swaddled in cardboard and blankets, didn’t end after the child got to the hospital.

“I went back with a teddy bear,” Eyster said. “Just a symbol to let everyone that walked past know that he was cared about.”

Over two decades passed, and Sgt. Eyster was promoted to Lt. Eyster and ultimately retired. But he could not let go of the thought of what happened to Baby Boy Doe. The baby was eventually adopted, so any records would be sealed. I have retired detective friends who talk about cases that you just can’t let go, especially if they go unresolved. Lt. Eyster never stopped wondering about whatever became of the baby in a box. A few months ago, the now-retired Lt. Eyster was afforded a reunion that was nothing short of divine reconnection. Lt. Eyster received a phone call from a colleague who was still on the force. The officer asked him if he remembered the case of the baby that was left in a cardboard box. When Lt. Eyster acknowledged that, of course, he did, the officer said:

“He’s (the baby) sitting next to me, he’s my rookie.”  

How amazing is that? Almost like the officers who rescued him and Lt. Eyster had imprinted on the boy in some fashion and he was drawn to the very same line of work. Even so, how does this child end up being adopted in the same town and then working for the same police department? Sounds like divine providence to me. 

The rookie in question was Matthew Hegedus-Stewart, the baby in the box. After his rescue, he was placed for adoption. He always knew he had been left in a box, but only connected the dots to Eyster after joining the department.

When Hegedus-Stewart joined the South Bend PD, he mentioned his story to his commanding officer when the two were responding to an abandoned child call. In March, Lt. Eyster was able to meet Hegedus-Stewart face-to-face. He had not seen him since the time he brought the teddy bear to the hospital. Lt. Eyster joked, “You’re a little bit bigger now.” 

The two spent time chatting and sifting through the case documents that included more than a dozen photos of a 2-day-old Hegedus-Stewart at the hospital.

Hegedus-Stewart wondered if his experience motivated him to want to pursue a career in law enforcement. He said he never imagined that he would end up at the same police department that helped investigate his child abandonment case. Lt. Eyster marveled as well at this serendipitous set of circumstances. The reconnection with Hegedus-Stewart came weeks after the unexpected death of his 36-year-old son Nick. “So the timing couldn’t have been any better, it helped to fill a void that I’ve had to deal with,” Eyster said.

Hegedus-Stewart told Eyster, “Thank you for everything you did for me.” 

Go get some tissues, and maybe hug your kids or grandkids. 



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