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Two decades later, ‘Baby Michael’ death haunts Cumberland authorities

March 2, 2019
The body of a newborn boy, whom Cumberland County Sheriff's Office investigators named "Baby Michael," was found in a plastic bag along a road on March 3, 1999.

Sunday marks a somber anniversary in Cumberland County.

On March 3, 1999, a soldier found the body of a newborn boy in a plastic bag on Canady Pond Road. The soldier initially thought he had found a baby doll, but he then realized his gruesome discovery was actually a dead infant.

Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office investigators determined the child, whom they named “Baby Michael,” died of blunt force trauma, but they have never been able to identify him, find his parents or determine who killed him.

“We are supposed to protect the innocent. This child we couldn’t help. We couldn’t protect this child,” Sheriff Ennis Wright said Friday during a graveside memorial service at Hair’s Chapel Church in Linden.

The pastor donated a plot in the church’s cemetery 20 years ago to ensure “Baby Michael” could be properly buried.

Some church members who attended the funeral years ago attended Friday’s service. Betty Gainey said she took her newborn grandson to the funeral and noted that “Baby Michael” would not be 20, just like him.

“I had him in my arms when I came to the funeral, and it just broke my heart,” Gainey said.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t given up hope of finding the child’s mother and solve the case.

The umbilical cord was still attached to “Baby Michael,” and his mother’s placenta was in the bag with him – providing investigators with plenty of DNA evidence. The DNA has been tested against that of more than 50 women over the years, but Wright said no matches have been found so far.

One of the biggest obstacles for investigators has been the transient nature of the area where the body was found. The military brings thousands of people through Fort Bragg, and Canady Pond Road is about a mile off Interstate 95, meaning the mother could have been passing through North Carolina and decided to dump the child here.

“We’re hoping, with the new DNA testing that’s been going on now, that we can somewhere somehow find out who may be tied to this incident,” Wright said.

“Genealogy DNA examination is very crucial to determine who the next of kin is, and it gives us an opportunity or a tool to be able to solve these cases,” investigator Bobby Reyes said.

Wright noted there’s no statute of limitations on murder, so his office wants to keep reminding people about “Baby Michael” in hopes of finally finding out who he was and how he died.

“We’re hoping, every time that we bring little Michael up, that we may find a lead or get a lead,” he said.