Garden of Innocence co-founder emails donors following story

The fallout from SN&R’s story on Garden of Innocence continues.

Co-founder Elissa Davey, a San Diego real estate agent, sent a lengthy email Thursday night to people who donated $100 to the nonprofit, which conducts elaborate, multifaith funeral ceremonies for miscarried fetuses whose parents didn’t take them home from the hospital.

The email disputes the story’s suggestion that GOI misrepresents its mission by saying it provides “dignified burials for abandoned and unidentified children.” Davey also denies that Sacramento County pulled its contract with her organization in response to the story.

Among the email’s highlights:

• Davey accuses the online commenter who said he felt “suckered for a $100 donation” of making “prank calls that they were going to volunteer for Garden of Innocence.”

That “prankster” is Michael Warren, a former newspaper veteran who offered his name to SN&R after receiving Davey’s email.

“At this point, I have no problem with coming forward and publicly identifying myself, in light of this email from last night,” Warren wrote me. “Looks like I learned an important lesson about leaving too much information (and now wish that I’d just signed the email with my real name).”

Warren was one of the hundred or so mourners and interested parties who attended GOI Sierra’s Sept. 21 service in Citrus Heights for 20 “abandoned babies.” He was so moved by what he heard and saw that he donated money to the nonprofit and flirted with the idea of volunteering. Then he read SN&R’s story.

“…[Wh]en I attended the service at Eastlawn Sierra Hills, there was no doubt in my mind, from the statements of too many of those getting up to speak, on top of the information I had already gleaned, that these were babies abandoned after birth,” Warren wrote in his then-anonymous comment. “To misrepresent the fact that these were stillborn fetuses unclaimed at hospitals is unjustifiably unnecessary.”

Garden of Innocence has since refunded Warren’s $100 donation through Paypal.

• Davey writes, “We have been giving back to the communities for 15 years, not 9 months.”

My mistake. When I asked Victor Hipolito Jr., area manager of the local Sierra branch, how long GOI had existed, he told me nine months. Maybe he was referring to the Sacramento County iteration or his own tenure with the organization.

• Davey writes, We have never signed a contract with the counties.”

Coroner Gregory Wyatt told me Sacramento County and GOI Sierra had entered into a “standard memorandum of understanding.”

• Davey writes, “We don’t have 17 chapters, we have 7 Gardens.”

Garden of Innocence National’s “Our Gardens” tab lists 17 locations.

• Davey writes, “99% of the children are not stillborn fetuses.”

Wyatt said that was the case in Sacramento County, and said he imagined the same would be the case in each of the counties GOI exists.

• Davey writes, “We do not name the babies, people from the communities do. The poems come from all over the world, we do not write them.”

Hipolito told me volunteers and donors name the infants, and that volunteers write the poems.

• Davey writes, “We don’t pay $700.00 per fetus.”

Again, that’s a figure from Hipolito, when I asked him to estimate the total cost associated with interring each infant. The website for GOI San Diego, where the nonprofit started, says each service costs north of $1,000.

• Davey writes, “We do our work quietly and do not seek media attention.”

I only learned of Garden of Innocence because it issued a press release hoping to get media coverage of its Sept. 21 service. It was the same press release that drew News 10KTXL and Valley Community Newspapers to the scene, and resulted in story and editorial coverage by the Sacramento Bee.

• Davey writes, “In 15 years not one parent has ever approached us to have their child disinterrned. Only two parents, out of the 229 children we have laid to rest over 15 years, have been to the garden and are very thankful that their child has this resting place. We save things from the services to give to the parents if they ever show up.”

I asked Hipolito whether parents ever contacted the group trying to get information about their children. He said yes and that they’re referred to the coroner’s office. I asked him what happens if parents want to reclaim their children’s remains. That’s when he told me GOI wouldn’t give them up, that parents had already “abandoned” them at that point.

• Davey writes, “I never refused to comment with this reporter. I answered his many questions about the circumstances of the childrens births in the same manner we always do.”

Davey and I never spoke. At all. I called her cell phone, but her voicemail was full. So I texted her and she never responded. I don’t know what reporter she’s referring to, but it wasn’t me.

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