But now Sandra Clara McClary, 26, is facing child neglect and reckless endangerment charges, and police accuse her of taking her daughter out of a vehicle and leaving her in the roadside spot where a neighborhood resident discovered her.
The Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland released a picture early Sunday of the little girl, estimated to be 2 to 3 months old, with the question, “Do you know the parent of this baby?”
Officers found the baby girl shortly before midnight in a car seat carrier on the side of a residential street in Pasadena. A diaper bag was left with the carrier, which had scuff marks of indeterminate origin.
The image was shared more than 27,000 times from the department’s Facebook page, prompting rampant speculation over how she got there. Others urged against rushing to judgment.
By Sunday morning, McClary had contacted police, claiming to be the infant’s mother, police said.
She first told investigators that the baby’s father was supposed to have the child and that she didn’t know her daughter’s whereabouts.
While questioning her, investigators determined that she had been in the area where the child was found, “removed the child from the vehicle and left her on the side of the road,” police said in a statement Sunday night.
“We’re most fortunate that the child is not harmed and appears to be in good condition,” Lt. T.J. Smith told reporters earlier Sunday.
The case remains under investigation, police said. It was not immediately clear whether the mother had obtained legal representation.
At a news conference hours before the charges against the mother were announced, Smith applauded the neighborhood resident who called police for being “observant enough” to take a closer look at the carrier instead of ignoring it.
Smith called it a “natural reaction” to think a parent might have abandoned the child but cautioned against snap judgments.
“At the same time, we need to make sure that there wasn’t any foul play involved, and that this person wasn’t a victim of a crime herself. So we don’t know the answer to that. We’re trying to figure that out.”
Police will consider charges of child abuse or child abandonment if warranted, but “we’re not at that point just yet,” he said. Maryland has safe haven policies for parents to leave their children in designated locations, including fire stations, churches and hospitals.
“It’s important for people to understand the laws associated with not being able to take care of your child,” he said. “You can’t leave a 2 to 3 month old on the side of the road. End of story. So it would be serious charges if we got to a point where we found out that someone did that on purpose.”
For now, the child is in the custody the Department of Social Services.
“Our main concern is the safety and the well-being of the child,” he said. “Right now, we’re taking it slow to try to figure it out.”
Vivian Kuo and Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.
By Emanuella Grinberg and Catherine E. Shoichet