Woman who allegedly gave birth in N.H. woods, left newborn in freezing tent, arraigned on several charges
While Alexandra Eckersley allegedly sang along to music on her cellphone, a Manchester, N.H. police officer hurriedly pulled apart a pile of bloody blankets inside a makeshift tent, frantically searching for the woman’s newborn baby boy amid 15-degree temperatures early Monday morning.
An officer “noticed a trail of blood that appeared to run down the side of the bed…[and] located the baby laying on the ground next to the bed behind a blanket. The child was alive and moving,” Manchester police wrote in a report filed in court Tuesday.
The newborn, who was born premature, was rushed first to Catholic Medical Center in Manchester and then airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, officials said.
Eckersley allegedly misled first responders for 73 minutes as to where she had given birth in the woods behind the West Side Ice Arena in Manchester, a delay that led to her being charged with reckless conduct, endangering a child, and two other charges. Based on their interactions with her, several officers concluded that the 26-year-old, who was wearing bloodstained clothing, was under the influence of drugs.
Eckersley is the daughter of Dennis Eckersley, an MLB Hall of Famer and former Red Sox pitcher and broadcaster, and his second wife, Nancy, according to a Red Sox media guide from the last year he played for the team, and published reports. Dennis Eckersley’s agent, Kim Zayotti, did not immediately return e-mails or phone calls Tuesday.
Alexandra Eckersley gave differing explanations to police during her interactions, including allegedly claiming that she did not know she was pregnant.
“Once she gave birth, she did not know what to do,” police wrote.
She also told police she had been living with a man named George who was allegedly with her inside the makeshift tent on the Goffstown side of the Piscataquog River when she went into labor. She said he was also there when she gave birth, according to the police report.
“Eckersley stated that the child cried immediately after birth; however it was for less than a minute,” police wrote. “She stated that her boyfriend ‘George’ told her that the child did not have a pulse and that she did not know how to determine if the child had a pulse or not.”
Eckersley called 911 at 12:06 a.m., according to authorities, and then waited with George for an ambulance to arrive. “Eckersley stated that while she was on the bridge waiting for the ambulance, George went back to the tent to retrieve his tablet and to turn off the heat,” police wrote. The couple had a propane heater.
They also allegedly talked about how police would probably break apart their encampment and take their tent, leaving them without any shelter during winter.
“During this portion of the interview Eckersley was stating that it is very hard to survive if they had lost their tent because of the cold temperatures during the winter in Manchester. Eckersley stated that this is the reason they turned off the propane heat,” police wrote. “Eckersley admitted that she had a conversation with George where they agreed to tell the police that the incident occurred at the soccer fields so that the police would not find and take their tents.”
Eckersley “was asked by police why she never took the baby with her and she stated, ‘What do they tell you when a plane goes down? Save yourself first,’ ” police wrote.
New Hampshire is one of several states, including Massachusetts, with “safe haven” laws allowing a mother to leave their newborn at fire stations or with first responders without facing criminal charges. The child can be no more than seven days old.
While Eckersley allegedly told police she had no idea she was pregnant until she went into labor, Tanya Eden, a woman whom Eckersley calls “Mom,” told police that Eckersley shared the news that she was four to five months pregnant about a week ago.
Eden told police that she has had contact with Eckersley on a regular basis.
Eckersley was arraigned from her hospital bed via telephone and not-guilty pleas were entered on her behalf. Bail was set at $3,000 cash and she was ordered to stay away from her infant son. If she finds a place in a sober house, she would not have to post cash bail, records show.
Eckersley was also taken into custody on an outstanding warrant from Concord, N.H., District Court charging her with endangering the welfare of a child.
Two outreach workers, one of whom has known Eckersley for the past five years, told the Globe Tuesday that the woman they know has struggled with the effects of mental illness, substance use disorder, and the daily trauma of being homeless for at least the past five years.
Both said they were surprised to learn she was pregnant, especially since she did not appear to be so when one of them met with her on Oct. 28.
On Christmas Day, Eckersley took the time to wish Merry Christmas in a Facebook message to Carol M. Lizotte, an outreach worker who first met her in Concord five years ago.
“Honestly, it’s breaking me up because she is not what she’s being painted to look like,” said Lizotte, who contends that Eckersley and homeless people in general are not provided the services and support they need. “She has the potential to be a wonderful mother. … It’s not all her fault. She’s actually a victim in this case just as much as the baby.”
Lizotte also urged the public not to demonize Eckersley or others facing untreated mental health concerns and substance use issues.
“It’s this whole gigantic, messy picture,” she said. “What we’re seeing happen to this young woman and her baby is very, very bad, but it’s indicative of a much larger picture, a much larger problem.”
Sara Tofanelli, the outreach worker who helped Eckersley in late October, stressed that she does not condone what Eckersley has allegedly done. She believes that Eckersley and anyone who played a role in the incident should be imprisoned if found guilty.
But Tofanelli said she does not believe Eckersley acted rationally at the time.
“Mental health is the primary issue,” she said. “Without mental health concerns, there was no reason for this. She never once mentioned she was pregnant, and if you looked at her, you would never have known.”
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