Published June 30, 2009
The Nebraska man who abandoned his nine children under the state's Safe Haven law last year is expecting to become the father of twins, FOXNews.com has learned.
Gary Staton, 37, became a single father in February 2007 when his wife, RebelJane, died of a cerebral aneurysm shortly after giving birth to the couple's ninth child. Unable to handle the burden alone, Staton made national news more than a year later on Sept. 24 when he dropped off his children — ages 1 to 17 — at a hospital in Omaha. According to the law at the time, parents could hand children up to age 18 over to state custody without prosecution. Legislators would later amend the law to limit its reach to infants up to 30 days old.
Joanne Manzer — the wife of RebelJane's father, Jack Manzer — told FOXNews.com that Staton informed his children last week that he's expecting to become a father again with his new girlfriend, a woman named Gail.
"I was told she's pregnant with twins," Manzer told FOXNews.com. "[Staton] told them the last time he visited them in Lincoln, that his girlfriend Gail was pregnant. He even showed them the ultrasound picture."
Staton, who could not be reached for comment for this article, declined to discuss his girlfriend's pregnancy when the Omaha World-Herald reported on Sunday that he would become a father again. Details of a multiple birth and the woman's name were not included in that report, but in an e-mail to the newspaper, Staton said, "Do you think I'm going to raise this one alone?"
Joanne Manzer said Staton's seven youngest children are staying with their mother's aunt, who plans on adopting them. The two oldest boys, she said, are living with a 75-year-old woman in Omaha so they can graduate high school. Despite the revelation that Staton will be a father again, Manzer said the children aren't angry.
"They don't seem to be, they're doing fine," Manzer said. "He goes up there for visits — they still have a connection. They kind of understood what he did, he was stressed with everything else."
Asked if she and RebelJane's father felt differently, Manzer replied, "It's his life. He can do whatever he wants as long as he doesn't hurt the kids anymore. That's all we care about at this point."
Manzer said she wishes that Staton had turned to his family for help instead of abandoning the children at Omaha's Creighton University Medical Center.
"He did what he did, but we wish he had done it a different way," she said. "If he had come to anyone in the family, we would've figured something out. He didn't come to us though, and I saw him the morning he dropped off the kids."
She said the children wouldn't have been left in the hands of the state, if the children's mother had survived her last pregnancy and become a single mom.
"Rebel would've done it different, she would've talked it out more," Manzer said. "If she thought the kids needed counseling, she would've been on anyone's door to keep her kids, that's how she was. Gary's the kind of person who doesn't talk it out."
In November, after its first special session in more than five years, Nebraska's legislators revised the safe haven law to apply only to babies up to 30 days old. Gov. Dave Heineman said the original law had "serious unintended consequences" after 36 children — ranging from 1 to 17 years old — were abandoned at hospitals, including children brought to Nebraska from as far away as California and Washington. Twenty-two of the 36 children were age 13 or older, and eight were ages 10-12, according to state records.
"Revising the law to create a 'baby safe haven' in Nebraska does two things," Heineman said in a statement last November. "First, it puts the focus back on the original intent of these laws, which is saving newborn babies and exempting a parent from prosecution for child abandonment. It should also prevent those outside the state from bringing their children to Nebraska in an attempt to secure services."
The last use of the state's safe haven law was on Nov. 21, the last day it applied to children up to age 18. A 14-year-old boy from Yolo County, Calif., was abandoned at the Kimball County Hospital by his mother, who drove roughly 1,200 miles to get there.
The boy, who was not identified, was later placed in the custody of the Yolo County Department of Employment and Social Services.
Kathie Osterman, a spokeswoman for Nebraska's Department of Health and Human Services, said the Staton family had received more than $995,000 in government aid as of last fall, including an estimated $600,000 in food stamps and more than $100,000 in Medicaid.
Safe Haven laws have been passed in all 50 states since 1999, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance. The District of Columbia is the only place in the U.S. without such a provision.
Melyssa Cowburn, of Tacoma, Wash., said she utilized Nebraska's Safe Haven law on Nov. 13 when she drove to Omaha to drop off a 5-year-old boy who had been literally dropped in her arms by a woman at a North Carolina Wal-Mart four years earlier.
Cowburn said the boy had been diagnosed with reactive detachment disorder and intermittent explosive disorder, conditions that can stem from parental abandonment. After several violent episodes, including attempts to set the family's house on fire and a hammer attack on another child, Cowburn drove the boy to a hospital in Omaha. She then drove alone to her mother's house nearby, sobbing the entire ride, she said.
"I'm not good, you know, I still miss him," Cowburn told FOXNews.com. "But I couldn't give my child the help he needed, and as the saying goes, if you love something, you have to let it go."
Cowburn, who said her case was drastically different from Staton's, called for improved child services nationwide.
"The law helped, but honestly, they need to address a lot of child service issues," she said. "A lot of the Safe Haven kids were parents just trying to get help. It answered a need that a lot of parents had. There's no place to put these kids that will help them."
Cowburn's mother, Ruth Thompson, said Nebraska's law saved her daughter's life after running into countless dead-ends elsewhere.
"It was a good thing because I thought [the boy] was going to kill her," Thompson told FOXNews.com. "There's so many kids that need a certain kind of help that the parents just can't give."