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Teen gives birth at the prom, then dances on

June 9, 1997

FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) _ The music played on, and the young woman in the dark, loose-fitting dress danced with her prom date, looking as if she were having lots of fun.

But in the marble-tiled ladies’ room at the catering hall, a maintenance worker was making a horrible discovery: blood all over a stall, a newborn baby dead in a trash bin.

Authorities are awaiting test results before deciding whether to charge the 18-year-old mother with killing her newborn son and then returning to the dance floor at the Lacey Township High School prom Friday night as if nothing had happened.

``The baby was alive during the birthing process,″ Robert Honecker, a Monmouth County prosecutor, said Monday. ``The medical examiner must determine, could the baby have existed independent of the mother.″

Among other things, investigators are testing the toilet water to determine whether the full-term, 6-pound, 6-ounce boy was drowned.

The Star-Ledger of Newark and WCAU-TV in Philadelphia identified the mother as Melissa Drexler of Forked River. Although authorities are treating the case as a potential homicide, the teen-ager was allowed to remain in the custody of her parents.

``They’re very upset,″ a woman answering the telephone at a Drexler residence in Forked River said. She said that she is Melissa’s grandmother and that she hopes the teen is getting some help. She hung up without giving her name.

No one emerged Monday afternoon from the Drexlers’ one-story house in a neighborhood of modest homes. Flowers hung from planters around the entrance of the home, a brown wood-sided house with a blue-gray door and shutters.

At the high school Monday, students said they had been unaware the 5-foot-7, 130-pound girl was even pregnant.

``She really didn’t look pregnant to me at all,″ said Becky, a junior who saw the girl at the prom. She would not give her last name.

Nor did anyone realize when she returned from the ladies’ room at the Garden Manor catering hall in Aberdeen Township that she had just given birth.

``She was sitting near me and my friends, talking and laughing. She looked like she was having fun,″ said Jamie Dries, 16. ``She looked like nothing was wrong.″

She even went up to the disc jockey to request a song.

Even the girl’s prom date didn’t know she was pregnant and was unaware of what had happened, but he told authorities he is probably the father, according to Honecker. Officials would not release his name.

Although several people had heard strange noises coming from a restroom stall, no one apparently realized what had happened until several prom-goers alerted the staff that blood was on the floor. When a maintenance worker opened the stall, she found more blood spattered on the walls and toilet.

School teachers and counselors, told by other students that a woman in a black dress had been in the restroom before the blood was discovered, approached the girl, but she denied any involvement.

After the dead baby was found in a trash can a few stalls away, school officials approached the girl again _ at the disc jockey stand, where she was about to request a song _ and this time she admitted giving birth, Honecker said.

Honecker said that shortly after arriving at the prom, the girl had gone into the restroom with a friend _ supposedly to fix her makeup _ then stayed behind. By the time her friend returned to check on her about a half-hour later, the girl had managed to give birth, wrap the body in a trash can liner and dump it a few stalls down, and clean herself up, Honecker said.

The girl was taken to a hospital to have the placenta removed. Efforts by the high school health teacher and ambulance personnel to revive the newborn failed, and it was declared dead at the hospital about two hours later.

Despite the sudden presence of police and two ambulances at the prom, school chaperones managed to conceal the birth from most of the 360 seniors and dates celebrating amid pink and black decorations.

``Nobody had any idea,″ said senior class president Jason Melnyk, who attended. ``Amazing as it seems, the people who were there had no idea what was going on.″

``She’s a really nice person. I don’t understand why she did the actions she did,″ Ryan, a 17-year-old sophomore who would not give his last name, said outside Lacey High on Monday. ``We’re supporting her, not her actions, but her.″

Several students from the middle-class southern New Jersey town said they couldn’t believe someone would discard a baby after all the publicity about Wyckoff teens Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson, who are charged with capital murder for allegedly killing their newborn son and tossing his body into a trash bin in Delaware.