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Newborn found abandoned but safe inside Cathedral of St. Paul

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Cathedral of St. Paul
2010 file photo of the Cathedral of St. Paul
Steve Mullis for MPR News 2010

Updated 4 p.m. | Posted 11:33 a.m.

The newborn boy found abandoned Wednesday evening in the Cathedral of St. Paul is safe and healthy.

Custodian Nathan Leonhardt found the boy between the interior and exterior doors of a side entry along Dayton Avenue. The child appeared to be just hours old, and his umbilical cord was clamped off with a binder clip. 

Paramedics took the child to Children's Hospital just down the hill from the church, and they say he is healthy and in good condition.

When Leonhardt first saw the green laundry bin that held the child, he initially didn't think anything of it, he said at a news conference Thursday. 

The bin had some clothes in it, and Leonhardt assumed they belonged to a man who was at the church praying. 

He went away and opened a door when heard a cry. "It sounded like a baby dog," Leonhardt recalled.

Then he moved the blankets covering the baby and saw his head, he said, and "immediately took him out, picked him up. 

Nathan Leonhardt shows where he found the baby.
Custodian Nathan Leonhardt shows where he found the laundry basket containing the newborn in the hallway of the Dayton Avenue entrance of the Cathedral of St. Paul.
Emma Sapong | MPR News

Leonhardt brought the baby to the Rev. John Ubel, the cathedral's rector, who baptized the child while they waited for police to arrive.

When Ubel opened a door to the outside, cold air rushed in and the baby cried, so the reverend said he consoled the child. "I said to the baby, 'don't worry, it's OK, welcome to Minnesota.'"

Authorities aren't considering it a criminal matter. Minnesota has a law that offers parents immunity if they leave an infant in an appropriate setting within a week of a birth, although the law only mentions hospitals and emergency medical providers.

St. Paul Police Sgt. Mike Ernster said it appears the person who left the child at the Cathedral is a struggling parent who decided the baby would be safe there. 

"Unless other information were to come about that would indicate otherwise, right now this just appears to be possibly a struggling parent who decided to turn their child in for safekeeping at the church," Ernster said. 

He also said that authorities are concerned that the birth may have been unattended, and the woman who bore the child may yet need medical attention.

"We're worried that there's a mother out there that possibly could need some help," Ernster said.

Minnesota's "safe haven" law gives mothers or people acting with a mother's permission a week after the baby's birth to surrender the child anonymously at hospitals and urgent care facilities, or to an ambulance sent by calling 911. 

From 2013 to late last month, 22 newborns were saved under the measure, according to state data.

"This law is not only for infants, but also for mothers," Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said in a statement. "Mothers who may be very scared and unprepared to care for their newborns have safe alternatives for giving them up."

When the dispatch call came in about the child at the Cathedral, St. Paul Police Sgt. Charlie Anderson heard it and went to the scene. Anderson, a father of three, was married at the Cathedral, so he knew the church. 

He estimated that the child had been born within an hour of being found — and he was was already feeling the chill of the empty church.

"The baby wasn't crying, but I could tell he'd lost a little bit if color," Anderson said. "We didn't know how much body heat he'd lost, so we were a little worried ... It could have very easily been a different story had they not noticed it and just locked up for the night."

He said officers followed the ambulance to Children's Hospital and later returned with some baby clothes and other supplies any other newborn might have.

"We went to Target, bought a bouncer seat, bought a blanket, got some onezies, some booties, just stuff like that and brought it to the hospital ... checked in on the baby. There was a lot of wet eyes and a couple group hugs," Anderson said. "We just wanted to let that mom know that that child was surrounded by people that fell in love with him and we wish her the absolute best."