Air Force Maj. Thomas H. Moss woke from a sound sleep to hear his wife, Frances, saying, "There's a baby in the front yard. There's a baby in the front yard."
He thought it was a dream. It wasn't. Still groggy and in his pajamas, Major Moss ran outside to find a crying 4-month-old boy in a baby seat on the lawn of his Delaware home.
"You hear stories of children being abandoned and neglected all the time. But never in my wildest dreams, believe me, did I ever think it would happen to me. I'm still shocked and amazed," he said yesterday, recalling Saturday's events, which led to the baby being returned home to Baltimore County.
Police, using a money order receipt found in the bottom of the baby's diaper bag, were able to identify the infant, Seth Champness Smith, and his mother, Shanda Marie King, and reunite the two Monday.
Yesterday, police arrested the baby's father, who shares legal custody of Seth with Ms. King, when he appeared at District Court in Essex for an unrelated court hearing. Jeffrey Champness Smith, 30, has been charged with reckless endangerment in Delaware but faces no charges in Maryland.
"The last couple of days have been a real nightmare . . . " Ms. King said yesterday at her Essex home, as Seth slept peacefully in a friend's arms. "I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep."
The incident began Thursday, when Ms. King and Mr. Smith, who are not married, took her four children to Rocky Point Beach. They spent the night at her home, and Ms. King said she woke the next morning to find Seth missing from his crib.
"When I woke up and didn't see the baby there, I thought, 'Oh my God, he took my baby,' " Ms. King said. "He didn't leave a note or anything. . . . I thought for sure Seth was in danger. I just knew he was out there somewhere crying for his mother."
She said she had no idea why Mr. Smith took the baby from the house. And when she notified police Friday, she was told that Mr. Smith could not be charged because they shared legal custody.
A day later, the baby was making headlines in Delaware, where the Mosses found him in their front yard, across from Dover Air Force Base.
"It was hard seeing the police walk out with him," Major Moss recalled. "It didn't take long for us to develop an attachment to the baby. He was a real happy child that smiled a lot when we picked him up."
Nicknamed after the first officer to arrive at the Moss house, "Little Michael" was quickly placed in foster care while detectives searched for his parents. Meanwhile, families from across Delaware inundated police with calls, volunteering to take in "Little Michael," said Detective Harlan Blades of the Delaware State Police.
"We sent teletypes up and down the East Coast in the hopes of identifying him," Detective Blades said. "We had absolutely no luck. . . .
"All we had to go on was a partial address of Cove Village on the diaper bag. No town. No city. No state."
It was a slip of paper that finally gave Detective Blades the "lucky break" he needed Monday. A receipt for a money order that Ms. King had used to pay her rent led police to a Valu Food store in Essex, where she purchased the money order.
And a phone call to Baltimore County police led to the right home. "Oh, thank God, you answered my prayers," Ms. King told the Delaware state trooper who called with the news.
Within a couple of hours, Detective Blades was handing Seth over to a sobbing Ms. King at a Delaware State Police barracks.