September 24, 2008

A Newborn Found Dead in a Tote

By Donn Esmonde

There was a world of pain Tuesday in the courtroom. There was a world of pain within a universe of "why?"

Evidence will be presented. Judgment will come. This case will, at some point, be officially closed. But I do not think there will ever be a fathomable answer to a simple question: Why?

Why did 19-year-old Alicia Zebrun allegedly dump her newborn daughter into a garbage tote where the child was found dead?

Why would an unmarried young woman with sensible choices staring her in the face choose an unthinkable option?

Why would a college kid who has a loving family and caring friends -- judging from the chorus of jagged sobs shattering the silence of the courtroom -- hide her condition?

Alicia's mother sat in court, weeping. The sobs of Alicia's younger sister chipped at spectators' hearts. Three female friends of Alicia leaned close together, the proximity easing the pain. An infant is dead. People are damaged.

Police say Zebrun stuffed her newborn into a shoe box late last week and discarded the infant in South Buffalo.

In the months to come, police will present evidence. Prosecutors will argue the case. A verdict will be reached or a plea deal made. Justice will come to the young woman with china-white skin and long auburn hair.

No matter what the legal outcome, the threads of understanding will remain untied.

What might have happened here -- a young mother whose actions allegedly doomed her child -- is beyond comprehension. We can look deeply into the human heart and still not find the key. What appears to have happened defies maternal instinct. It violates not just the law of the land, but the laws of nature.

"The thing that really sticks in your mind is why?" said Buffalo police Sgt. Jim Lonergan of the Homicide Bureau. "She is not a 13- year-old kid. This is a 19-year-old adult. She had other options."

That is the way it seems to Lonergan, the way it seems to me, the way it seems to you. It is apparently not the way it seemed to Alicia Zebrun.

She could have put the newborn up for adoption. She could have surrendered the infant -- under the "safe haven" law -- at any hospital, police station or fire hall, no questions asked. She would not have to face whatever personal or familial consequences she feared. Her life goes on. The baby's life goes on.

Police say that instead of choosing life for her baby, Alicia Zebrun, through her actions, killed her.

To me, it is incomprehensible. But circumstances make what might have happened here a daily event somewhere.

Experts say that a newborn is killed or abandoned every day in this country. In a similar case five years ago, Buffalo State College student Colleen Smith delivered a baby girl in her dorm bathroom. She wrapped her in plastic and towels and placed her in a Dumpster, where the baby was found dead. Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 31/2 years in prison.

Smith's strict parents reportedly did not approve of the deteriorating relationship with her boyfriend. She felt trapped and confused.

We do not yet know Zebrun's story, and we do not know the story of the infant's unidentified father. If Zebrun did what police say, some conflict must have short-circuited her common sense, injected her with denial. There are some things that can be ignored, and they will go away. Pregnancy is not one of them.

There was plenty of pain Tuesday in a city courtroom. The sobs of grief for a young mother, for a dead infant, wrapped around a simple, unanswerable question: Why?

e-mail: [email protected]

(c) 2008 Buffalo News. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.