The Gulf County Sheriff’s Office is awaiting results of a forensic investigation by the District 14 medical examiner’s officer to determine whether ashes found on a property in Wewahitchka are that of a stillborn baby.
Sheriff Mike Harrison said investigators with his office followed up on a tip that said a mother, under the age of adulthood, confessed to storing her stillborn fetus in a container for weeks, and then cremating it on a barbeque grill.
“We don’t know the length of time period (they were stored), but we think it was over a week,” he said.
Harrison said the young woman cooperated fully with investigators, and that they believe the child was between 19 and 21 weeks of gestation when the mother delivered early.
The sheriff said the ashes have been collected and sent off to the medical examiner’s office, where he believes further study may require that of a forensic anthropologist.
“They will determine if that is actually what we believe to be the human remains. I’m hoping they’re able to determine that,” Harrison said. “Initially, we don’t have any conclusive information other than the mother’s word of where she disposed of the body.
“It’s very difficult. The mother is going through a lot. To my understanding, this is not the first miscarriage that she has had,” he said.
If results confirm human remains, the woman could face misdemeanor or felony charges of either mutilation of human remains or body, or disposal of human remains improperly.
“We’ve got to have physical evidence in order to charge someone in a case like this,” Harrison said. “We have discussed this and referred her to some counseling. At this point we’re waiting for the results to come back, and once we determine that the remains are human remains then she will be charged.”
“It’s not a statute we use on a regular basis,” he said. “We will present the information to the state attorney. With a stillborn fetus, the question is when does it become medical waste that is required to be buried? And is there criminal intent?”
According to Florida law, there is an extensive legal requirement for documentation of all fetal deaths or nonviable births, and such filings are generally handled by funeral directors, physicians, physician assistants or advanced practice registered nurses.
All information relating to cause of death in all such cases, including the parentage, marital status, and medical information are confidential, with the exception of specified health research purposes.