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Strangers Say Goodbye to Abandoned Infants

Burial: Fifty people gather for a funeral service for three babies whose bodies were recently found in the Los Angeles area.

July 14, 2002|ERIKA HAYASAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A crowd of 50 people, mostly strangers, cried, prayed, listened to poems and became a family for the three abandoned babies buried Saturday.

The bodies of Amanda, Angelita and Paloma--names given to them by those attending the service--had been discovered in the Los Angeles area in the last four weeks.

"There were more people here to show these babies love than their parents ever did," said Gilda Tolbert, an investigator for the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office who attended the ceremony.

Amanda's body was found June 10 at a recycling plant in the City of Industry.

Angelita and Paloma, twins, were found in a garbage bin. Authorities did not release any other details about the twins.

At the beginning of the ceremony, Sgt. Richard Longshore of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department carried a tiny 10-pound casket with Amanda's body inside.

Longshore is one of the investigators who was called to the scene when Amanda's body was found on the recycling plant's conveyor belt.

Longshore said he had named the baby Amanda because he had heard the name means "deserved to be loved."

Husband and wife Doyle and Gilda Tolbert carried the second miniature casket with Angelita and Paloma.

The Tolberts, who are investigating the twins' deaths, named one Angelita, because it means "little angel" in Spanish. They named the other Paloma, which means "dove."

"They never had a chance," Gilda Tolbert said.

"Who should they trust in this world? Their mother. But they were just tossed out and thrown away."

In her 25 years with the County Coroner's office, Gilda Tolbert said, she has worked on many cases involving abandoned babies, all equally upsetting.

Debi Faris, 46, who lives in Yucaipa, near Calimesa in Riverside County, where the funeral was held, has recovered and buried the bodies of 52 children from Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties since 1996.

She started the work because she felt it was her duty. Faris runs the Garden of Angels organization, a nonprofit group that buries abandoned babies.

She also works to educate young women about options that are available to them if they unintentionally become pregnant and decide they do not want to raise the child.

"Who could throw away an innocent little child who never asked to be here on this earth?" Faris asked.

California's "safe haven" law allows women to leave their children at a hospital emergency room within 72 hours of birth with no questions asked and no fear of prosecution.

But many women are not aware of the law, Faris said.

There should be more media and educational campaigns to prevent mothers from abandoning their children and allowing them to die, she said.

Headstones, burial costs and flowers are paid for by private contributors and the Garden of Angels' foundation, which is funded with donations and grants.

The bodies of the three babies were buried alongside nearly 50 others in the Garden of Angels graveyard.

Nearby, headstones were engraved with names like "Reggie, the humble one" who was buried March 3, 2000, and "Angeline, the messenger," who was buried July 22, 1999.

Twenty-one doves were released at the end of the ceremony.

"These babies here got my heart," said Don Smiley, 70, who frequently attends funerals for discarded babies.

Smiley wrote a poem for Angelita, which included this passage: "We see you as you might have been, the little doll you might have held. A toss of hair, infectious grin, would have caused our hearts to melt."

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