Local News

Woman Finds No Safe Haven for Abandoning Toddler

Posted April 27, 2007 6:46 p.m. EDT

— A Sampson County woman has been arrested after she left her 2-year-old daughter at a local hospital.

Tracy Devona Owens, 24, has been charged with misdemeanor child abuse and child neglect in connection with the incident, which occurred at Sampson Regional Medical Center the night of April 18.

The toddler was left in a bathroom inside the front entrance. Stanley Monk, a janitor at Sampson Regional, found the girl wandering the hallways.

"I was getting up my trash and saw a girl in the hallway," Monk said. "She stood up and wiped her eyes like she was lost, and I went over and asked her where her mother was. She shook her head and said she didn't know."

Hospital employees searched for the girl's mother but found only a note. "I have nowhere for me and my kids to stay. ... I don't know what else to do," the note said.

Employees then called police.

"The child was 2 years old, left to her own devices," said Detective Russell Strickland of the Clinton Police Department. "She could have wandered into traffic. Anyone could have picked her up."

North Carolina's Safe Surrender Law allows mothers to abandon children at a hospital or other location with a responsible adult, but it applies only to infants up to 7 days old.

Still, Strickland said authorities wouldn't have arrested Owens if she had given the toddler to a responsible adult.

"It would be a neglect issue from a social services standpoint but not criminal from our standpoint," he said.

The girl, who was unharmed, is with her grandmother, who is fighting for custody. The grandmother also is raising three older children of Owens. The children's father is in prison.