On January 17, 2003, an 11-year-old boy was walking in Western Branch Park in Chesapeake, Virginia, when he made a grisly discovery.
The frozen body of a newborn boy, umbilical cord still attached, had been wrapped in two blankets and an oversized diaper. It had snowed the night before, and temperatures had dropped below freezing.
With no leads, investigators were unable to identify the baby. The community named the mysterious child “Baby Daniel,” and the news media asked for any information to help authorities solve the case. Eventually, the case went cold, and it seemed as though the baby would never be identified.
As the community stopped submitting tips, authorities remained baffled by the case. But on January 7 — nearly 17 years after the newborn was found — police arrested 41-year-old Melissa Chrisman and charged her with murder and felony child abuse and neglect. Authorities told WTKR-TV that the arrest came as a result of ongoing forensic testing.
Authorities have not spoken about how Chrisman and the baby were connected.
“We really don’t know too much about this,” Detective James Thomas said in a video released by Chesapeake Television shortly before the arrest. “We don’t know how the baby got out there. There was no evidence of anybody leaving. We don’t have anybody coming forward and saying that somebody had a baby that is unaccounted for.”
“Somebody did take care of the child,” Thomas continued. “The child was cleaned, wrapped in a blanket and had a diaper on. So somebody cared enough to do that for the baby, and didn’t just discard him. Somebody took the time to wash him, make arrangements for him to be what they believe to be warm or taken care of.”
Authorities have not disclosed what evidence they found that led them to Chrisman, who would have been 24 years old when the baby was born. WVEC-TV reports that her DNA was found at the scene.
Chrisman made her initial appearance Wednesday by video from Chesapeake jail. At times, she seemed to be holding back tears. She did not enter a plea, and she did not have a lawyer authorized to speak on her behalf. She qualifies for a public defender, but she told the judge that her family might hire a private attorney to represent her. She is being held without bond.
While Chrisman has declined to give interviews to local news stations, the boy who found the baby spoke out on the Chesapeake police video. “I’ve thought about the case over the years,” says Rafael Cabrera, now 28, who is expecting his first child with his wife.
“I’d like to see, across the board, the value of life go up a little bit,” Cabrera said in the video, choking back tears. “That shouldn’t happen to anybody. No one deserves it.”