It’s been less than a day since our story on Garden of Innocence has been out, but the investigation into the nonprofit group’s activities has already resulted in changes within Sacramento County.
The 15-year-old organization, which has 17 chapters around the country (and one in Poland), conducts multifaith funeral services for miscarried fetuses that go unclaimed at hospitals. The nonprofit claims these stillborn infants are “abandoned children,” which is one reason it’s in hot water now. (One online commenter, who later identified himself as Michael Warren to SN&R, indicated he felt swindled into a $100 donation by this misrepresentation.)
In response to the story, Sacramento County evidently suspended its agreement with the organization, which was planning another service next week.
A little after 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Victor Hipolito Jr., area manager of the local chapter, posted the following two entries to GOI Sierra’s Facebook page:
Garden of Innocence Sierra shared a link.
2 hours ago near Sacramento
So yesterday our Service Coordinator Jennifer and I went over to the county coroners office signed the paper work for the 8 babies paid all their fees and picked up 4 of them the other 4 are to be cremated and we woul…d pick them up later. Got home and last night I placed their ashes in their little hand made quilts and nestled them into their urns. Then I received a call from Gregg Wyatt our county coroner who loves Garden Of Innocence. He told me that a local small time paper wrote a bad article about our organization including my self. He explained to me that the writer miss quoted him and twisted the story around. He said he was very sorry. I explained to him that its ok because alot of times that is what the media does. He then sent me the link. I read it and I am so amazed that this writer wrote this story. I could only think it is because when he interviewed me I would not give him in depth information about the children. Now the county needs the children back and its not their fault they need to protect themselves. Please read the article. I will tell you this. Garden of Innocence Sierra has no paid employees. In fact there have been times when I paid for things out of my own pocket. All children we bury are from 20 weeks gestation to 8 years old. This article is basically claiming that these infants that are fetal deaths don’t deserve to have a burial that they deserve to be in a potters field mixed up with other indigent that are not innocent as they are. I will not let this get me down I am in this organization because my heart brought me here and I will not stop until my heart does! Victor Hipolito Jr.
Garden of Innocence Sierra
2 hours ago near Sacramento
My heart is breaking right now knowing Im giving these babies back and knowing they will not have a dignified burial service. I have them here nestled in their urns ready to be layd to rest with a small beanie baby toy. I know they will never get to play with but its in the giving that makes me feel good about it. Knowing they will never have a birthday or even a Christmas. At least They got something. If you walk through a cemetery you will see things that people lay out for their loved ones. Each individual has Their very own resting place where they are loved. Now these children will go into a mass grave and will forever be forgotten. I can’t even write anymore This tears me up!
Is anyone else bothered by Hipolito’s characterization of the indigent as “not innocent as they [the stillborn fetuses] are”? Does being poor or homeless or without family make any person somewhat less human and less deserving of the dignity Garden of Innocence pretends to offer?
Anyway, I contacted coroner Gregory Wyatt to see whether Hipolito’s characterization of their talk is accurate; I haven’t heard back yet, but I stand by the story.
[UPDATE: As of 3 p.m. Friday, these posts no longer appeared on GOI Sierra’s Facebook page.]
The contracts that Garden of Innocence has with multiple California counties means it can bury abandoned children, but that’s just not the reality. As one child birth center director told me, “These aren’t abandoned children.”
The cases in which a parent or legal guardian doesn’t claim a dead child are extremely rare, Wyatt and others told me. Wyatt couldn’t recall the last time that happened in Sacramento County. Even when a child is tragically murdered and a parent is the suspect, other relatives almost always claim the body.
The funeral services Garden of Innocence provides, at least locally, are for stillborn fetuses whose parents didn’t bring them home with them. The 20 “children” Garden of Innocence interred last month during its first local ceremony in Citrus Heights included fetal miscarriages dating back to 2011.
I wonder how the parents who suffered such private losses—ones they are often discouraged from openly grieving, according to clinical thanatologist Huyen Brannan—would feel about GOI claiming their miscarriages as “abandoned,” giving them names and burying them in multifaith ceremonies the parents have no knowledge of or control over.
Some of them might like what Garden of Innocence is doing. Others may not. A few, as the nonprofit indicates, may not even care. But at the very least, they deserve to know.