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Sheriff: NC teen who hid pregnancy from parents believed to have buried newborn in backyard

A 16-year-old girl appears to have hidden her pregnancy from her parents for nine months and given birth without their knowledge to a baby girl who was found buried in the family's backyard, a North Carolina sheriff said Tuesday.

Police found the full-term baby, who weighed 8.5 pounds, buried in a subdivision in Franklin County, Sheriff Jerry Jones said Tuesday. Based on preliminary information from the state medical examiner's office, authorities believe the baby was dead when she was buried, he said.

They're awaiting the final report to determine the cause of death and whether the baby was alive when she was born.

The investigation began about 7:30 p.m. Sunday when someone who had overheard a conversation went to authorities, he said.

The person "overheard something like, so-and-so is having a baby, and she's not going to tell anyone about it," Jones said. "So it would be a concealed childbirth. He didn't know if it was true or not. His remarks were that 'I cannot keep this. I have to tell somebody.' "

Investigators shortly found the family involved and went to their house, where family members were shocked by the possibility that someone there had given birth, Jones said.

As investigators looked around the house, one saw what appeared to be a bloody towel or shirt in the teenager's bedroom, he said. "We had some suspicions, but we didn't have anything else," Jones said.

Investigators left and discussed getting a search warrant, but the girl's father called back about 10 p.m. Sunday and said, "you need to come back to our house. We found what you're looking for."

He led investigators to a shallow grave in the backyard where he had uncovered enough to see the baby's head, Jones said.

At first, Jones was skeptical that the girl's parents wouldn't know their daughter was pregnant, he said. "I didn't really agree with that when I first heard it," he said. "But the social services people said teens are very, very clever in hiding this type of stuff. There may be ways of concealment that I don't know about."

He encouraged others in this situation to talk with a counselor, get prenatal care and at least use North Carolina's safe haven laws to drop off their baby. Under that law, parents can give up a baby within seven days of birth at a safe haven center, which include hospitals and police or fire departments, without being charged with a crime.

The mother of the newborn was taken to a hospital for treatment and was released Monday night, he said. Investigators hoped to interview her Tuesday, and they also hoped to get the final report from the medical examiner late Tuesday, he said.

They believe the baby was born late Sunday morning or early Sunday afternoon, he said. Investigators believe the teenager buried the baby, he said.

The newborn's father, who also is a juvenile, was aware of the pregnancy, as were some friends of his and the baby's mother, Jones said. It's not clear if they knew that the baby was buried, he said.

He expects concealment of birth charges and possibly others. "If things go the way our investigation is leading us, it could become a death investigation," he said. "From Sunday night and nobody knowing, it's evolved in our investigation that at least the newborn child's father was aware (of the pregnancy) and that he had told some people about it. From what seemed to be a clearly discrete pregnancy has turned into at least a half dozen or so people knowing about this pregnancy."

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Online:

NC's safe haven law: http://www.ncdnpe.org/documents/iai2.pdf

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Follow Martha Waggoner at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

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