If you ask most cops how they’d like their day to go, plenty of them will tell you they’d like it to be as peaceful and uneventful as possible. Even though it’s their duty to respond to crises as necessary, just like everyone else, they would rather there are no crises at all.
Of course, we live in the real world where sometimes, terrible things will happen. Cops understand that even the most innocuous of calls they respond to have the potential to be an awful crisis. After deputies responded to one particular public disturbance call, it would take a horrifying turn that they couldn’t have predicted…
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Causing A Ruckus
On a Saturday night in the small, unincorporated community of Lolo Hot Springs, Montana, Deputies got a call about a man causing a disturbance in public. As they made their way to the scene, additional 911 calls came in that said the man was threatening various people, claiming he had a gun and was reaching into his pockets.
Maybe On Something
From the calls, it seemed the man was certainly in a state of distress and was probably in an altered state, either drunk or high on one drug or another. But by the time deputies reached the scene, the man had already left the area. That might have been the end of things if witnesses at the scene hadn’t told them something alarming…
The man was apparently a local named Francis who had been living in a camp near the hot springs in Lolo National Forest. He was unemployed and had no money of his own but lived with a woman who worked nearby and, while she was working, he would care for her 5-month-old baby.
Where’s The Baby?
But according to witnesses, that little boy hadn’t been seen for hours. What had started off as one man being too rowdy — and potentially armed and dangerous — had quickly turned into something much more terrifying: an infant that was unaccounted for…
Not Making Sense
As the deputies were speaking to witnesses on the scene, Francis showed up again, still rowdy and disoriented. He was quickly apprehended by the authorities and as they tried to question him, it became obvious that he was under the influence of drugs. The answers he was providing to the officers’ questions just weren’t making any sense.
Francis told investigators that he’d crashed his car after losing control and driving off of some back road in the nearby woods. He hadn’t been seriously injured in the crash and was able to walk away. But he gave conflicting stories about what happened to the baby that was in his care and in the car at the time…
Francis, who investigators would later find was high on methamphetamines and bath salts was unable to say how long ago the crash had been. He variously claimed that the baby he had left the baby alive, lying by the side of the road or had died inside the car in the crash or that he’d buried him somewhere in the woods.
Search And Rescue
The cops’ number one priority was now to locate the missing child as quickly as possible in the hope that he was still alive. But standing in the way of that outcome was Francis Crowley’s inability to say exactly where he’d crashed his car, giving investigators several different vague descriptions of where he may have crashed the car…
A search and rescue mission brought on as many Missoula County Sheriff’s Deputies and US Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers as could be scrambled. The search efforts weren’t nearly as concentrated as they might have been due to Crowley’s “numerous inconsistent statements about the baby’s whereabouts,” court records would later say.
Deputy Ross Jessop and US Forest Officer Nick Scholz were one pair of searchers working closely together searching along an abandoned road that matched the description of one location Crowley had given back when police apprehended him around 8 pm. Thankfully, they had located his crashed car about a mile up the mountain with the car seat still inside…
No Sign Of The Baby
But there was no sign of the baby in the car seat or in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle. Instead, they found children’s trivia cards scattered on the ground a few yards away, a container of baby formula and a piece of baby clothing in a bush further down the slope. Even further, they found an abandoned diaper bag and baby carriage. “We ran up there thinking we were gonna find a baby right there,” Deputy Jessop said. But the baby was nowhere to be found.
Bracing For The Worst
That hope and the renewed fervor it had brought to the search had gradually morphed into a resigned sadness as the hours went by and they were still unable to find the missing child. It was now around 2 am, nearly 9 hours after police apprehended Crowley and hopes were low. “All night long, I was preparing myself mentally to find a dead baby,” Deputy Jessop said. “I was losing my faith that the baby was even alive.”…
But just as he was giving up hope, Deputy Jessop and Officer Scholz walked uphill from where they had last seen some debris. They paused for a moment just before the crest of the hill to radio other officers when, “during a break in the communications, we both heard the small whimpering of a child,” Deputy Jessop said.
“The sound I heard was an exhausted tired baby who didn’t have the lung capacity to cry anymore, just a very faint whimper,” he said. As soon as the heard the noise, the two started running toward it. Deputy Jessop was about to take another step when he heard a stick crack underfoot and looked down. There at his feet, he saw a cold, wet, soiled 5-month-old boy lying face down under a pile of sticks and leaves…
“I abandoned any police training or any chance of saving evidence there — I didn’t care. I scooped up the baby, made sure he was breathing,” Jessop said. “He had a sparkle in his eye… I warmed him up, gave him a couple of kisses and just held him.”
In Good Shape
Aside from a few scrapes and bruises, the infant was largely unharmed. After he and the other searchers had been bracing themselves for the worst, Officer Scholz said he was “blown away” by how happy and healthy the child was. “To have Ross holding this baby with a twinkle in his eye was absolutely surreal,” he added…
“One of the search and rescue folks who was with us,” he continued. “He doesn’t want to be named, gave us his down coat and a beanie hat. We covered that baby up immediately and walked him out.” During the twenty minute walk to the safety of an ambulance, ”He settled in pretty good. He was coughing a little bit, he actually coughed up a few sticks out of his mouth,” Jessop said.
Once at the ambulance, the boy drank a whole bottle of Pedialyte in under a minute, then drank two more on the way to the hospital, said Missoula County Sheriff, Captain Bill Burt. The baby’s tiny, dirty hand gripped Capt. Burt’s finger with surprising strength until he fell asleep soundly as the hospital staff hooked him up to an IV…
Francis Crowley said that he’d left the baby in the woods because he “was heavy” and it wasn’t initially clear if he’d intentionally covered him with debris. He was charged with criminal endangerment and assault on a minor and was held on a $100,000 bond until his trial. Upon hearing the allegations against him in court, Crowley broke down repeatedly, falling to his knees and sobbing, twice exclaiming “I love that f***ing kid.”
In a later press conference, Deputy Jessop got emotional when he described finally finding the baby in that pile of sticks and leaves. “It was a miracle. People go through lows in their career, especially being cops.” His personal law came in 2010 when he’d fatally shot a man who tried to shoot him during a late-night traffic stop. “I had prepared myself mentally to find a dead baby, if at all. And seeing and hearing that baby overcame me with so much joy. I have three kids, they’re all girls. I was so happy. I was happier than hearing my own daughters cry for the very first time. I’ll never, ever doubt the lord again.”