‘She is very loved:’ Baby left in Safe Haven box adopted by Ocala first responder who found her

Adoptive parents of Zoey say they’ve been trying to start a family for a decade

OCALA, Fla. – Six months ago, someone dropped off a newborn baby in Florida’s only Safe Haven box located at Ocala Fire Rescue Station 1.

Today, Baby Zoey is a happy and healthy little girl in large part thanks to the Safe Haven Baby Box and the rescuer who opened the box, who would become her adoptive father.

The firefighter stationed at Ocala Fire Rescue headquarters was checking on the climate-controlled box when the alarm went off and discovered the little girl inside with a shoelace tying off her umbilical cord.

He and his wife had been trying to start a family for a decade, so after rushing the baby to the hospital, they began the adoption process.

News 6 is not identifying the family out of respect for their privacy.

Today, they are Zoey’s adoptive parents and have fallen in love with the little girl.

“It wasn’t real until I got the call I could go in there with her in the NICU,” the adoptive mother said. “We’ve been trying for almost a decade to have a family, and everything has kind of not worked out for us. So we are like, ‘Don’t get our hopes up, don’t get our hopes up.’”

She added that it felt like a blessing.

“Everyone was just in disbelief, honestly, that she was hand-delivered to us almost and that everything had kind of worked itself out to where we could bring her home two days later,” she told News 6.

Both adoptive parents said they commend Zoey’s birth mother for her decision.

“I think it’s very respectable, what she did,” Zoey’s adoptive mother said. “We really felt in our hearts that we wanted to let the birth mom know in some way, shape or form that she is safe, she is happy, and she is very loved.”

Monica Kelsey, founder and CEO of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, was abandoned as an infant herself.

“You know I never really looked at myself as someone who was going to change other people’s lives, I just wanted to put a few boxes here in Indiana and save the two babies a year that we were finding deceased,” Kelsey said in a Zoom interview from her Indiana office.

Kelsey brought the baby box to Ocala in 2020 at the request of the mayor, she said, never knowing Zoey would find refuge there but expecting that some baby at some point would.

“We’ve had 10 [babies abandoned in boxes] this year in 2023, this is a record year for us,” Kelsey said. “But it’s working. And this little girl is proof that these boxes are needed in Florida.”

The box is installed in a wall where the public can access it from one side and first responders are on the other side, like a fire station or hospital. The outer door locks from the outside when the door closes and immediately alerts rescuers when a baby is placed inside. Zoey was getting medical attention in less than 2 minutes.

Kelsey is working on installing a second box in Florida near Gainesville and currently maintains 153 around the country.

Kelsey said she’ll happily install one at any fire station or hospital if requested by a hospital owner or municipality and even has donors willing to pay for it. More information is available on the Safe Haven Baby Box website.

Florida’s Safe Haven law allows a newborn to be dropped off at any fire station or hospital within 7 days anonymously and without prosecution.

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About the Authors:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for News 6 and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting.

Troy graduated from California State University Northridge with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication. He has reported on Mexican drug cartel violence on the El Paso/ Juarez border, nuclear testing facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory and severe Winter weather in Michigan.