KEARNS — The distraught parents of a woman accused of disposing of her newborn daughter in a trash can say their daughter has "special needs" and didn't understand what she was doing.
"She doesn't process things correctly," Robert Englert said Wednesday. "She didn't know what to do. She was confused. She was scared."
Englert said police told him Tuesday they weren't going to arrest his daughter, but "they arrested her anyway."
Alicia Englert, 23, is being investigated for the attempted murder of her newborn daughter.
Robert Englert, who helped remove the baby from the trash can earlier that day without knowing it was his granddaughter, said his daughter wouldn't understand any charges filed against her, and jail time wouldn't mean anything to her.
"Alicia's not a monster at all," he said. "She's a sweetheart. It's just a bad circumstance. She didn't even know she was pregnant."
Neighbors had alerted Robert Englert about a baby found in a trash can and he ran to help. He said he climbed inside, picked up the baby, wrapped it in a blanket and held it until an ambulance arrived.
"I was like 'Who would do a thing like this?'" he said. "I had no idea it was my daughter."
Police said the baby was likely born around midnight Sunday, and Robert Englert said Alicia Englert left for work at 6 a.m. Tuesday. The baby was found about 7 a.m. that morning.
Police are not releasing details about what happened from the time the baby was born, though booking documents state the baby did not receive any medical treatment or proper nutrition.
Robert Englert said the newborn "seemed OK" while he held her. The baby, he said, made "a little bit of noise but wasn't screaming" and it felt warm, all but the tiny feet that were cold.
The baby remained in critical condition Wednesday, according to Unified police detective Jared Richardson.
Richardson would not say whether Alicia Englert exhibited any handicaps but said police could not use that information unless a professional diagnosis is made, which he said is "up to the defendant."
Alicia Englert has yet to be charged with any crime, but she is being held in the Salt Lake County Jail.
"She doesn't understand what's going on at all," said Tammy Englert, the woman's mother. "We tried to explain it to her, and she didn't realize it was that bad what she had done."
The rest of the family, she said, is "heartbroken."
"I'm completely lost. My daughter is in jail. They won't let me see my granddaughter. I have no rights," the emotional mother said. "My other kids are heartbroken. They're devastated and heartbroken and lost. I feel lost."
Alicia Englert allegedly told officers she was afraid for her parents to find out about the pregnancy. She said she discarded the baby "in hopes it would die and solve her problems," a police report states.
Both Robert and Tammy Englert said they noticed their daughter "had gained a little weight," but they were completely unaware that she was pregnant.
"I'm not going to tell my daughter, 'You're fat, and lose some weight,'" Tammy Englert said. "How do you do that?"
Robert Englert said his daughter "complained of bad cramps" Sunday and had been laying on the couch with a heating pad over her stomach.
"We thought it was her period," he said. "She doesn't know how to take care of herself completely. We thought, 'Alicia, there's a mess in the bathroom.' We wanted her to clean it up. We want her to learn to take care of herself. But her mother helped."
He said Alicia Englert eventually came down the stairs carrying a towel.
"So I'm assuming the baby was in the towel," Robert Englert said. "There was no screaming, no pain. I mean, giving birth is a hard thing. It was in the bathroom upstairs. We were right under her, watching TV. We didn't hear anything. There was blood everywhere in the bathroom. I thought, 'I'm not going in there.'"
Alicia Englert was never officially diagnosed with any learning disability, but she participated in special education courses at Kearns High School. She reads at a third-grade level and can't write, her parents said. The woman graduated from high school and got a job with the help of the school's vocational rehabilitation counselors.
"I think it would be nice if she got a diagnosis and got the help she needs," Tammy Englert said.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who had not yet received the case for potential criminal charges, said such a diagnosis would come into play during the mitigation of the case, if compounding factors are found.
Gill said cases involving "particularly vulnerable" infants and children are difficult because everyone can understand that parenting doesn't come with an instruction manual.
Giving up a baby in a time of distress, he said, "is not a shameful thing."
"We want to be able to help people get over the shame and fear of asking for help because the consequences can be very grave and sometimes fatal, and we all pay the price as society," Gill said, adding that preventing child neglect and abandonment is cheaper than prosecution.
He cited similar cases of child neglect and abandonment, including a little over a year ago when a jogger found a 2-month-old baby boy sleeping in a stroller alone in the Avenues. The mother, Jamie Dawn Todd, was later found to be using drugs and the child was taken into protective custody.
Earlier this year, Megan Huntsman was charged with six counts of murder, after seven babies were found dead at her Pleasant Grove home. One is believed to have died before it was delivered, according to police.
Still, there are other cases involving abuse and/or neglect, and "there are far too many," Gill said.
Aside from the responsibility of enforcing public policy and helping to solve the problem at hand, Gill said his office is taxed with trying to determine whether actions of abandonment are intentional or reckless. In this case, it might be without information on the mother's mental capacities, which may come later as the case unfolds.
And while a potential attempted murder charge hangs in the balance, Gill wants to make sure others know that "help is available. Resources are out there."
Utah's Safe Haven law, in effect since 2011, allows people to leave newborns at any 24-hour hospital without legal consequences. Salt Lake County also offers a crisis hotline at 801-587-3000 where people can learn about available services, including parenting classes, temporary respite care for infants and children, and more, depending on the circumstances.
Gill said he hopes people will reach out to others and prevent future instances of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment.
"Children are worthy of our protection," he said. "And parents are responsible for certain types of behavior."22 comments on this story
The Englerts have two other grandchildren and said they would have helped in any way had they known about the situation.
"We would've done anything for our child and our granddaughter," Tammy Englert said. "This is unfathomable. It's just not real."
Contributing: Brianna Bodily