A 20-year-old woman accused of dropping her newborn baby girl into a lake told police she felt the infant's heart beating as she let the child slip from her hands into the brackish water.
"It's hard to believe," Kenner Police Chief Steve Caraway said on Wednesday. "This was a beautiful little girl, full term, a child that could have made someone very happy."
Ciara Craig, a sales clerk who lived in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, will be charged with first-degree murder, Caraway said. Killing a child under 12 in Louisiana brings an automatic first-degree murder charge, which could result in the death penalty.
Craig, who gave birth at home on Tuesday, said she didn't want the child and had contemplated an abortion, but her pregnancy was too far along, Caraway said. She hid the pregnancy from her grandmother, with whom she lived.
"She said she was not ready to raise a baby," Caraway said. "She said it was the result of a one-night stand and she did not want it."
Craig admitted to police that she drove to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain north of New Orleans on Tuesday afternoon and walked to the water carrying a black bag, with her daughter in it. Witnesses told police she emptied its contents into the water, walked calmly back to her car and drove off. Craig turned herself in Tuesday night at the urging of family members.
Craig was in a hospital under police guard Wednesday undergoing treatment related to the delivery. Police said Craig did not have an attorney Wednesday afternoon. They would not divulge Craig's grandmother's name or the names of other family members.
'Too many other options'
She had received counseling on alternatives, Caraway said. But he was not sure if she knew about Louisiana's Safe Haven law, which allows people to drop off unwanted infants in safe places without being prosecuted.
"She should have brought the baby to a police station or hospital," he said. "There are too many other options for something like this to happen."
A day after the baby's body was pulled from the lake, the state Department of Social Services said it would launch a major public awareness campaign about the Safe Haven law. It will include outdoor advertising across the state, brochures and a new Web site, DSS Secretary Kristy Nichols said.
"We are going to make sure word gets out in churches and schools," she said. "This will be a major campaign."
Under the law, a baby up to 31 days old may be left at any emergency care facility, such as a hospital or police station. The baby cannot be left unattended and must show no signs of abuse or neglect. The department may also seek to have churches added to the list of places an infant may be dropped off, Nichols said.
Since 2004, eight infants have been relinquished in Louisiana through the law, most recently in October 2008. Eight children other than Craig's baby have been abandoned in ways not condoned by the law. Of those four survived, four died.
The 2008 child was turned in at Children's Hospital in New Orleans. The process went smoothly, hospital spokeswoman Cathleen Rondon said.
"But in talking with some of our people, they say they would not have known of the law if they didn't work here," Rondon said. "They really wonder if a young woman would be aware of it if she wasn't a health care worker."
The newborn's autopsy was being performed Wednesday by the Jefferson Parish coroner's office, but Caraway said it would not be released until test results were complete.