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He was abandoned as a newborn in a box. Now, he works for the police department that saved him

Matthew Hegedus-Stewart said he wonders if his origin story subconsciously motivated him to pursue law enforcement.
South Bend Police Baby Box Reunion 1.jpeg
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Posted at 11:59 AM, Apr 29, 2024

Retired South Bend Police Lt. Gene Eyster never forgot the day he was called to investigate a case in which a newborn baby was abandoned in a cardboard box. But he never could have imagined how he and the baby — now an adult — would reunite over two decades later.

On Dec. 22, 2000, a resident at Park Jefferson Apartments in the Indiana city called the police after he heard a baby crying and found an infant swaddled in a blanket and flannel shirt sitting in a box in the hallway, according to a post on the department's Facebook page.

Responding officers transported the baby to a local hospital before contacting Eyster, who was a sergeant in the department’s Major Crimes Unit at the time.

Eyster described it as one of the more “unsettling” calls of his 47 years in the force, the department said.

Newborn baby in the hospital after being abandoned, Dec. 22, 2000
South Bend Police Officer Matthew Hegedus-Stewart as an infant in the hospital.

Local media spread the word about the abandoned baby to help search for answers, referring to him as “Baby Boy Doe.” But Eyster said he started calling him “Baby Jesus” since he was found a few days before Christmas.

Eyster would go on to buy the baby boy a teddy bear, hoping to bring him some comfort in the hospital and let him know someone cared, the department said.

The baby’s birth parents were later identified and the mother was ultimately charged with neglect. The department said “Baby Jesus” was adopted by a new family.

Years later, Eyster would go on to retire and often wondered where the baby ended up — until March 2024.

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South Bend Police Officer Matthew Hegedus-Stewart had previously mentioned to his field training officer, Officer Josh Morgan, that he had been adopted as a baby. It wasn’t until the pair responded to a call regarding an abandoned child that he shared more about his adoption story, saying it all happened right in South Bend.

When Morgan researched the case, he saw Eyster listed as the lead investigator and gave him a call, the department said.

“You aren’t going to believe this,” Morgan said to Eyster. “He’s my rookie!”

On March 22, Eyster and Hegedus-Stewart met for the first time since Eyster brought the teddy bear to his hospital crib.

The two men got to know each other, looking at the case documents that included photos of Hegedus-Stewart as an infant that he and his family had never seen before, the department said.

Hegedus-Stewart said he has to wonder if his origin story subconsciously motivated him to pursue law enforcement. But he never could have imagined he would end up at the same police department that helped investigate his case during his first days of life, the department said.

South Bend Police Officer Matthew Hegedus-Stewart holding a photo of himself as an infant.
South Bend Police Officer Matthew Hegedus-Stewart holding a photo of himself as an infant.