Trail of blood led investigators to mother of newborn left in dumpster

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The mother of the newborn baby girl found in a dumpster two weeks ago has been arrested and identified by police.

Althea Johnson, 27, was arrested Tuesday morning and is facing a charge of abandoning a child, a second-degree felony. Her bail is set at $60,000.

The newborn was found in a dumpster at the Mira Vista Apartment at 9601 Middle Fiskville Rd., near Rundberg Lane, around 6:55 a.m. on Oct. 25 by a man who was dumpster diving. The man told police when he heard crying, he moved a piece of trash and found the baby, according to the arrest affidavit.

Investigators followed a trail blood from outside the dumpster to the sidewalk, that led to the master bathroom of one of the apartments, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

“They also observed cleaning supplies and a sponge on top of the toilet,” the affidavit said. When officers questioned Johnson, she told police she was on her period and was last pregnant in November of 2016. She later told investigators that the baby was hers, and initially said she had put her in the bushes before admitting she had placed the newborn in the dumpster, according to the affidavit.

“Althea Johnson knew that Baby was alive, seeing her eyes open,” the affidavit stated. “Despite having a working cell phone, Althea Johnson did not call 9-1-1 or anyone else.”

The placenta was still attached to the baby, the affidavit stated. The girl, who was initially rushed to the hospital in critical condition, has been released from the hospital and is with family, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said.

Court documents indicate the trash was scheduled to be taken out that day, “The trash truck was unable to unload the dumpster in question, as it was blocked off due to the crime scene being processed.”

Austin police investigate a dumpster where a baby was found in North Austin (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)
Austin police investigate a dumpster where a baby was found at Mira Vista Apartments in north Austin on Oct. 25, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Kate Weidaw)

The newborn’s two siblings were placed with other family members by Child Protective Services, which also has custody of the newborn girl.

Teresa Reese, who lives in the apartment complex, told KXAN she was getting ready to take her daughter to school when she saw a man hovering over the dumpster. The man asked her for the name of the apartment complex and told her there was a baby inside the dumpster. “I just started crying hysterically,” Reese said the day it happened.

When KXAN caught back up with Reese after Johnson’s arrest, she said she and other neighbors had been suspicious of Johnson. Reese says some saw her still pregnant the day before the baby was found. She also says Johnson was outside watching the investigation on the day the baby was discovered.

“She actually approached me,” Reese recalled. “No emotion, no anything, and she was like, ‘What happened?’ And I’m like, I looked straight at her stomach, I don’t know why but I just looked straight at her stomach and I’m like, ‘Someone threw a baby in the dumpster,’ and there was no emotion. Everybody else was hysterical, we’re crying, we feel this, and with her, there was no emotion, whatsoever.”

Knowing Johnson already had other children, Reese says the idea that the newborn could be abandoned is unfathomable.

“You know what it’s like to give life, you know what it’s like to see that beautiful being,” Reese said. “You had to take the time out to lay eyes on this baby, you had to take the time out to wrap this baby up, you had to take the time out to walk from your place all the way to the dumpster, and not in any one of those moments, not in any one of those moments did you think, ‘I can’t do this.’ Not one time did you have remorse.”

An Austin Police Department child abuse detective spoke about the case Wednesday, saying the dumpster diver saved the child’s life.

“I really feel like the baby kind of had a guardian angel,” said detective Lee Knouse of APD’s Child Abuse Unit. “That gentleman wasn’t looking for a baby in a dumpster. He didn’t hear a cry before he went into that dumpster. He just happened to be in there, and he heard it.”

After the newborn was found, officials reminded parents that unharmed newborn babies can be brought to any hospital, fire station or emergency medical services (EMS) station in Texas without the fear of being prosecuted for abandonment or neglect. For more information on designated Safe Havens, visit the Department of Family and Protective Services website.

Neighbors say warning signs were there with Johnson’s other children

Those who know Johnson’s children say there may have been some warning signs of neglect. One neighbor told KXAN Johnson has three other children, a son who is a toddler and two daughters, ages 7 and 8. She told KXAN the children came to her house to eat breakfast and after-school snacks every day.

“They told me that the only food they got was the food that was at school,” said the neighbor, who did not want to be named.

She added that the children often appeared as if they weren’t well taken care of.

“A lot of times, they weren’t dressed properly for the weather, or you know, they’d come over and their hair wasn’t combed,” she said. “I’d do what I could to get them out the door and proper for school.”

Police say all of Johnson’s children were placed with family once the baby was found abandoned. However, detectives say this case is a reminder that witnesses shouldn’t wait for a tragedy to happen before reporting neglect.

“A child doesn’t have a voice,” APD Det. Knouse said. “It’s not like an adult, that they can just remove themselves from a situation that’s dangerous. They need someone to advocate on their behalf.”

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