The baby girl did not even have a name. She was born prematurely at her mother’s home in Omaha, Nebraska in the early hours of September 30, 2016. Shortly after the birth, the baby lay dying on the ground outside her mother’s apartment block, bleeding from her tiny brain, abdomen and spine, with her grandmother frantically trying to save her life.
But the baby girl – born ahead of time, measuring 14 inches and weighing just two pounds – could not be saved. Her distraught grandmother was still desperately trying to revive her fragile body when police officers and paramedics arrived on the scene shortly after 4:00 a.m. The baby was immediately taken to the nearby Creighton University Medical Center but she was pronounced dead on arrival.
It turned out that responsibility for the newborn’s death lay with her own mother, 16-year-old Antonia Lopez. In the course of their investigations, police unearthed a slew of disturbing social media messages that the teenager had posted before, during and after she went into labor that night. Lopez was transferred to Omaha’s Douglas Youth Center, a secure juvenile detention facility, and charged – as an adult – with felony child abuse resulting in death.
“It makes me feel very disturbed,” Mark Nelson, a neighbor at the Kellom Knowles apartment complex in downtown Omaha, told ABC local news channel KETV. “Just looked like a normal family, normal neighbors, say hi, keep to their self.” Indeed, up until the dreadful morning of September 30 there was nothing to indicate that Lopez was anything other than a difficult high school teenager, and certainly not one who was pregnant.
But Lopez’s behavior was certainly problematic – she had a history of skipping school and her family reported her missing on nine different occasions over a single period of four months during 2015. In January the following year she was caught stealing cellphone cases from Walmart and put on a six-month probation. But these were all relatively minor acts of delinquency.
But at some point in February 2016 Lopez became pregnant. And according to testimony she later gave to detectives, she had been unaware of her condition until September 30, when she suddenly went into labor in her bedroom. However her boyfriend disputes this, saying both of them had known about the pregnancy and that he had urged Lopez to inform her mother and seek medical advice.
But at least one member of her extended family appears to have been unaware that Lopez was carrying a child. “She looked like she was well underweight more than anything else. I would’ve never dreamed that she was pregnant,” her grandfather John Barcelona told KETV. “In my head, I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”
In police statements Lopez claims to have woken up in the night in the apartment she shared with her mother, suffering severe abdominal pains which she put down to the onset of her period. But judging by the Snapchat messages she sent to her boyfriend at around that time, the teenager was well aware that she was in labor. “Babe I’m having contractions in my lower abs, it hurts so much,” she wrote.
Lopez gave birth to a daughter alone in her room. The baby was about eight weeks premature. Lopez then sent a photo of the new born to her boyfriend, accompanied by the message, “Babe I had a miscarriage,” followed by a crying face emoji. “It was a girl by the way,” she added. Lopez later told police she thought her baby had been stillborn. However, an autopsy revealed that the infant had been very much alive.
Lopez then threw her baby daughter out of the two-story apartment window. The precise reason remains a mystery, but it appears the teenager may have panicked. Soon afterwards she informed her mother of what had happened. Her mother called 911 at 4.12 a.m. and then raced outside to try and rescue the baby. Emergency services arrived to find the grandmother attempting CPR on the injured infant and whisked away both the baby and Lopez. After a medical evaluation the teenager was charged.
Lopez’s Facebook profile – now deleted – suggested that she had perhaps considered making a getaway shortly after the birth. “Who can de me a huge favor and has a car?” She requested of her Facebook friends at 3:40 a.m. accompanying the pitiful plea with three crying emojis.
Many of her Facebook followers assumed the worst. After the media picked up the story her post received almost 2,000 comments, including numerous angry threats and insults. Elsewhere on the teenager’s profile, commenters posted hateful messages calling her evil. Some said Lopez should kill herself, but others rushed to her defense, saying she was just young and scared.
Several mainstream news outlets also published several disturbing images from her Facebook timeline, apparently taken months before the birth. They appeared to show Lopez complaining about a baby doll she had to care for as part of a school assignment on child-rearing in January 2016. “This thing is so annoying,” she wrote at the time.
However, too much may have been read into those images, as one of her female peers from school pointed out. “She might’ve said that baby doll project was annoying,” she wrote on Lopez’s Facebook page. “But that doesn’t mean she thinks all babies are annoying, so many people in my class said that when they had that project.”
Although Lopez was initially arraigned as an adult, Douglas County Court later made the decision to refer her case to juvenile court. It said the move reflected the teenager’s mental state and lack of criminal record. Furthermore there was a strong suggestion that the killing was not pre-meditated.
“It’s a horrible case – terrible,” Don Kleine, Douglas County Attorney, told the Omaha World Herald newspaper. “To me, after we looked into it, the way things happened, it didn’t seem to be anything you would label as an adult-specific act. It wasn’t a planned-out, thought-out process. It was more of a panicked reaction.”
Had she been charged as an adult, Lopez may have spent the next 20 years in prison. Instead she was placed on probation by Judge Christopher Kelly, in order to get her life “back on the right track”. That said the judge also voiced the doubt that Lopez would ever be able to put the incident behind her.
Jennifer McClung, Lopez’s defense attorney, asked for the teenager to be allowed to remain at home with her mother. However district attorney Don Kleine argued against it, claiming that Lopez was “unemotional.” He told the court, “I’ve heard that there’s a little bit of a affect issue. And by that I mean, it seems as though she doesn’t realize how serious this was”
However, Lopez’s attorney disagreed. “To say she doesn’t understand is disingenuous,” said McClung. “She understands. She’s coping the best she can. The mother is coping the best she can. The grandmother is coping the best she can.” Indeed, Lopez’s apparent lack of emotion may be a psychological defense mechanism – a way to numb herself to the awful situation.
Ultimately Judge Kelly ordered Lopez to live in a group home, participate in therapy, perform 50 hours of community service and delete her Facebook profile. According to the court ruling, Lopez was guilty of a terrible error. But judging by the tone of some of the more extreme comments on social media, the public may not be so understanding or forgiving. Sadly, there is nothing redeeming about this tragic story.