CHICAGO - It's hard to imagine what Morgan Hill is feeling right now. She's not quite sure herself. How can you possibly process the fact you were born, wrapped in a towel, put into a trash bag and left in a dumpster to die - all before you were a day old?
Morgan's parents told her that she was adopted when she was young, but didn’t give details. They knew she wanted to know more, and planned to tell her after high school graduation.
Nothing could’ve prepared her for the story they would tell.
Morgan’s mother, Sandi, tried to find strength to have the conversation she’d been preparing for for years.
“She could barely get it out,” Morgan said. “She was basically already crying before telling me.”
Morgan’s biological mother had hidden her pregnancy, delivered quietly at home and then tried to get rid of the baby so no one would know.
Morgan learned she’d been found in a dumpster, tied up in a trash bag double knotted at the top.
She’d been left to die.
“I honestly didn’t know what to think when she was telling me,” said Morgan. “She had the binder of articles and just had me read through all of them.”
Sandi had kept as many articles as she could throughout the early years of Morgan’s life. She’d done so for this moment.
Morgan Hill had no idea that her life story had dominated Illinois headlines years before.
Morgan read all of them.
She read how a construction worker named Garold Hyatt - known to his friends as Rocky - found her while taking a last load out to the dumpster. He heard a whimper. And then heard it again. The compilation of articles all described the same thing. He moved closer to the sound and then saw a white trash bag twitch. He got nervous and ran to the nearby hospital for help.
Three nurses came running. One of them, Carol Szafranski, opened the bag and saw a healthy, blue-eyed baby girl inside.
The multitude of articles described how nurses named her Mary Grace, how authorities caught her biological mother, who was sitting in jail awaiting a trial, and how her biological father never even knew there was a baby until the mother named him in court.
Until last week, everything Morgan knew about her dramatic first days of life came from newspaper articles.
A young Morgan Hill with her adoptive parents, Tracy and Sandi Hill.
In preparation for this story, Morgan and I emailed and talked often on the phone. She mentioned during one of the preliminary conversations that she’d always wanted to find the construction worker and nurses, but she hadn’t had any luck.
I didn’t say anything to Morgan because I didn’t want to get her hopes up, but I knew the moment she mentioned it that I was going to do whatever it took to find the people who’d saved her.
I found a Garold Hyatt in Kentucky, made the call and knew the moment I asked him about baby Mary Grace that I’d found the right man. He started gushing about how he’d never stopped wondering about her. He’d been hoping all these years she’d call.
I told Morgan’s mother, Sandi, I’d found him, and as a surprise for Morgan, she arranged to fly Garold and his wife Norma to Chicago during the same time when we’d be there interviewing Morgan about her story.
Then I found the nurse. So we set that surprise up, too.
While we sat in the family’s living room and interviewed Morgan about her life story, she didn’t show much emotion. She gave all the sad details without even a tear.
One could only assume she was either numb to the fact she was talking about herself as a baby, or the two years she had known the whole story allowed for her to feel less emotion. The rest of us were not so strong.
Although it was obvious she was trying hard not to cry, tears did well and drop when Morgan talked about what she’d say to those who saved her.
“Just, honestly, thank you," she said as tears first brimmed in her eyes and then finally streaked her cheeks. "And I couldn’t say thank you enough for basically saving my life and giving me the chance to live a wonderful, beautiful life with the family I have."
She gave into her emotions, tears finally falling.
We knew at that moment the reunion would be amazing.
Morgan was facing our cameras telling us details of her discovery. We asked her to read an article in hopes she’d be so focused on the words on the page that she wouldn’t notice what was happening behind her.
“The baby, who weighs 6 pounds, 3 ounces and is 20 inches long,” she read, “was named Mary Grace by nurses because they considered her a gift from God.”
Then I asked for the name of the construction worker.
“Garold ‘Rocky’ Hyatt,” she said, very matter-of-factly.
“He just walked in your house,” I said.
As Morgan tried to process what I’d just said, she turned, put her face in her hands and started sobbing immediately.
Her mother gave the official introduction.
“Morgan. I would like you to meet Garold ‘Rocky’ Hyatt and his wife, Norma,” she said, with her own tears streaming.
The two hugged for what must have been several minutes.
“Bless you, baby,” Garold said as Morgan buried her face in his shoulder, eeking out a muffled "thank you."
“It has been my privilege. It has been my blessing. Your mother has done such a wonderful job with you."
“You were just three days old the last time you were in my arms,” he said.
The two sat, and Garold told Morgan her story for the first time.
Morgan learned the dumpster was full and had been scheduled for pickup the next morning. She learned Garold was the last person to go to the dumpster, and just how close she was to not being found.
“The wind was blowing," he said. "It was turning cooler. I just heard a little whimper, and I didn’t know if it was a baby or a cat. I went on further down the middle of the dumpster and I heard it again. And I saw the bag move. And I thought it was a baby. I wasn’t for sure. I was nervous and didn’t hardly know what to do."
Garold described running to the emergency room of the hospital. He said he was so out of breath, the nurses thought he was having a heart attack. It took him three times to slow his words enough to gasp out an understandable. “I think - someone - has placed - a baby - in our dumpster,” he said.
The nurses took off. Found the dumpster. Saw the trash bag. A nurse named Carol Szafranski was the one who picked up and tore open the bag.
Reporter’s note: At this point, Morgan’s mom escorted Carol into the room and Morgan started crying again. She’d never met Carol, although she’d tried finding her. Then Garold and Carol finished Morgan’s story.
“I still remember I opened it up … and I go, ‘It’s a baby! It’s a beautiful baby girl!’ and just scooped you right up," said Carol. "You were just looking at everybody, not a worry, not a care. Just beautiful."
“Not a scratch on you. Just a little bit of a dent on your forehead where a metal stud had laid resting on you,” Garold added.
Carol explained how the nurses had chosen the name Mary Grace.
“We put Grace because you were a baby, we figured by the grace of God you were here with us. And Mary because it was almost all Filipino nurses that day you came in and Mary is the number one name,” she explained.
“[We knew] it wouldn’t be your forever name, but that it would be your forever name to us,” Carol added, tears welling in her eyes, too.
Morgan sat quietly listening. Crying. Wiping tears. She was hearing all of this for the first time, including details she’d never read in any of her articles.
Sandi had kept outfits from when Morgan was a baby. One of the outfits was the one Morgan was wearing when she left the hospital to go into foster care. Carol explained the outfits were made by hospital volunteers and staff, and they had picked out the prettiest for Mary Grace.
The note attached to the hand-made outfit reads: "We received Mary Grace at Bethany on Oct. 18, '95, wearing these booties + the accompanying sweater + blanket."
It was a pink, handmade crocheted gown with a matching blanket and booties. The person who received Mary Grace kept the outfit with this handwritten note. Sandi gave it to Morgan two days before our visit. She’s still processing its significance.
Back in time
Garold sent us a VHS tape of local coverage of the baby Mary Grace case. This is CBS2 in Chicago’s coverage of the dumpster discovery. You might recognize the man anchoring there at the time: it’s current NBC Nightly News Anchor Lester Holt.
The reason Morgan is speaking out now is because she hopes her story can saves lives.
Every state has a Safe Haven law that allows a new mother to relinquish her healthy baby at a designated place in hopes she won’t resort to abandonment, like what happened to Morgan.
Many states grant anonymity and most protect the mother from prosecution. But the baby must be given to someone on staff at a designated Safe Haven, and they most be handed over by a certain age – and every state is different.
(Infographic by Brandon Twichell)
You can learn more about each state's Safe Haven for Newborn laws here.
Morgan’s adoptive mother worked hard to protect her
“I kept as low a profile as I could so that we didn’t have people inquiring about her, coming to our door, things like that," said Sandi. "I didn’t think that was fair to Morgan."
Sandi says she was the baby’s nanny at first, and she only later learned that the baby’s biological father was considering choosing her to adopt his daughter.
“I got a phone call from the biological father wanting to know if I’d be interested in taking care of Morgan while he was working," she said. "He has another son from a previous marriage. He was an excellent father. He worked a night job. It was very hard for him; he knew he needed help. I was very grateful I was asked and more than happy to help him. It was a real treat."
Sandi had always wanted to be a mother, but at that point in her life she had passed the cutoff age for a public adoption, so she feared she’d never be a mother.
“The biological father sat down with my husband for probably about three hours one day, wanting to know what kind of family we were,” Sandi explained, adding she’d had no knowledge of this conversation. “Did we go to church? Would we be able to afford to have a child in our house? He wanted Morgan to have a good life, I believe, is what he was looking for.”
She remembers how her husband told her.
“I started crying right away. I couldn’t help it,” she said. “I probably cried the next four hours.”
When Sandi found out they were going to be the baby’s new parents, she went immediately to the book store and bought a couple of baby name books. Her husband picked the name Morgan, and she picked the middle name Jayne.
“My main wish is that she is happy,” said Sandi.
Sandi fully supports Morgan’s decision to go public with what Sandi kept private for so many years.
“What Morgan went through in the early part of her life was not necessary. It could’ve been done a lot easier,” she said. “There are so many people like me”.
Morgan Hill and her biological father in 1996 (left) and 2016 (right).
Morgan’s biological father fought for custody after he learned he was the abandoned baby’s father. With so many begging to adopt her and so much news coverage of her discovery, he did so to protect her, then quietly hand-picked the couple who’d been helping him care for Morgan to be her new parents. They told no one. They wanted her to live a normal, private life.
After Morgan learned about her past, she tried to find her biological father. He’d kept the same cell phone all these years out of hope she might someday call; they now get together a couple of times per year and talk on the phone regularly. Morgan is thankful for this relationship, especially since her adoptive father passed away while she was still in high school.
Reporter’s note: After learning she was thrown away as a baby, Morgan wanted to do something to help others. She started reaching out to agencies she found online that helped young mothers know they have options - they don’t have to throw away their babies. She discovered a group in Florida called A Safe Haven for Newborns and shared her story with its founder, Nick Silverio. Since he was in Florida, he put Morgan in touch with a woman he’d worked closely with on Safe Havens in Missouri and Kansas - Debby Howland, who works with the Kansas City Child Abuse Roundtable. Morgan developed a trusting relationship with Debby, who was helping her figure out how to share her story and raise awareness.
Before the month of April, like every year, I meet with Debby to discuss how best to cover child abuse issues and prevention. It was at our regular meeting that Debby said she decided it should be me to tell Morgan’s story.
It is an honor to be trusted by all involved to tell such an unbelievable story. It was a privilege to tell this story, and an honor to be witness to the beautiful reunions.
There is much more information about Kansas City Safe Havens for Newborns here.