Cameron Johnson of Ukiah said that if authorities allow it, she'd happily take custody of the baby she found in a Vallejo mini-mart restroom on Saturday.
The 37-year-old mother of three said Monday that when she entered the restroom and discovered the baby, she realized almost immediately that the 16-month-old boy had been alone for a while.
The general manager of a family fitness center and an instructor at a local community college, Johnson said the baby was "screaming and blotchy;" when she found him -- a condition that typically takes a while.
"He'd thrown his cup, and was so angry and upset, until I picked him up, and he didn't cry again," she said. "I went out to tell my husband and my son that it was going to be a while."
Vallejo Police Department officers arrived, but there was no one available from Child Protective Services to pick up the boy -- so Johnson and her children stayed with him for the next two or three hours, until police took him to the police station, she said.
"We entertained him; my kids played with him and my son wanted to take him home," Johnson said. "He's a sweetheart. Once I took him out of the stroller, he relaxed. I could tell he had been left with strangers a lot, because he was so comfortable. If that had been my kids, they would have been freaking out."
A review of surveillance video showed a white or Hispanic woman in her 20s with dark hair wheeling the boy into the ladies' room in a stroller, and emerging
alone about nine minutes later, heading on foot toward Benicia Road, police said.
The child, later identified as Charles Edward Evans, IV, was alone in the lavatory for about an hour, with crackers and other supplies left with him in a backpack.
Vallejo police arrested Joia Hukill, 21, at a residence on Wilshire Avenue in Vallejo only hours after she allegedly left her son in the 400 Lincoln Road East. She was booked into Solano County Jail for child endangerment and child abandonment, police said. She pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of child desertion, child abandonment and possession of methamphetamine -- all felonies.
Hukill also faces one count of misdemeanor child cruelty and one count of violating her probation in a separate case..
It is believed Hukill, who may also be known as Joia Benavidez, may also have a younger child named Jordan, and may have recently battled substance abuse.
The Ukiah woman's discovery of baby Charles could not have been predicted.
"We were on our way to Ikea and met up with friends there, which we do sometimes, because the bathrooms are clean, so I took my daughter to the restroom, and there was a baby in a stroller, an empty sippy cup on the floor and he was very upset," Johnson said. "I immediately looked in all the stalls, and they were empty. Then I asked around outside if he was anyone's baby and no one answered. So I got the girls behind the counter to call the police."
After the short time baby Charles was with the Ukiah family, Johnson's son wasn't the only person ready to take "Charlie" home.
"I have contacted Health and Human Services in Solano to put my name on the list for keeping him," Johnson said. "I don't think there's a mom out there who wouldn't. It's the saddest thing ever; a disgusting trait of society that we're not taking care of people with whatever problems and they're not taking care of themselves, and they're still having kids. I want to save this little boy and any other children she may have."
Johnson's actions come as no surprise to her friend, Nicole Marino.
"She is the most kind, thoughtful, loving person I know," Marino said. "She doesn't feel like what she did was a big deal, but in all honesty, it was. Some crazy person could have found (the baby) and done unimaginable things to him."
What will happen next is uncertain.
While confidentiality rules prevent him from speaking to this particular case, Solano County Health and Human Services Director, Patrick Duterte, said this type of situation is exceedingly rare. He has no recollection of anything like it happening in his 12 year career. In such cases, however, protocol would dictate taking the abandoned child into protective custody.
"A child left unattended, it usually becomes the county's responsibility," he said. "Theoretically, a determination would be made if there are any other children remaining in the household, and social workers will look at the situation to see if there is someone in the home or another family member, who is equipped to care for them."
If no suitable family member can be found, the child would typically go to a foster home, Duterte said. Authorities look for ways of keeping siblings together when possible, he said.
Acknowledging that a parent who abandons a baby in a public restroom is likely "feeling desperate and not thinking straight and that their situation can be so dire, they feel that have no choice, but abandoning a baby in a restroom is not normal, not OK."
Infants under 1 year can be dropped off without consequences at any fire station, under the state's Safely Surrendered Baby Law, he said. The law's intent is to save the lives of newborns at risk of abandonment by encouraging parents to safely surrender them within 72 hours of birth, with no questions asked, according to the California Dept. of Social Services website. Solano County residents can dial 211 for local safe surrender sites.
Johnson said she never thought she'd wander into a public restroom and find an abandoned baby.
"It broke my heart, as I was holding my own daughter's hand," she said. "I had to tell my husband and son that someone had left a baby in there, and I just found him. I'm not a hero; I'm just lucky enough to be the one to walk into that bathroom and save that little boy."
Times-Herald staff writer Tony Burchyns contributed to this article. Contact staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at Rachelvth.
©2013 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.)
Visit Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.) at www.timesheraldonline.com