Mom: Woman didn't know of pregnancy

Arena maintenance employees Eder Serrano (left) and Marco Calle show where they helped rescue a newborn abandoned in a restroom last Friday in Greenville.

Heidi Heilbrunn

GREENVILLE -- The woman accused of giving birth in an arena bathroom during the circus and leaving the baby in a toilet told her family afterward that she was bleeding heavily, but didn't know why.

As Jessica Blackham, 24, checked herself into a hospital six miles away, a cleaning crew found the 6-pound boy, his skin purple and breathing so labored that he could barely cry.

The custodians desperately followed a 911 operator's directions, one of them even whispering "vas a estar bien, bebe" (you're going to be OK, baby) as he used his finger to sweep mucus from boy's mouth. The baby is in good condition at a hospital.

The details of Friday night came into focus when the cleaning crew talked to the media Wednesday about its discovery, and Blackham's mother tried to explain to a judge what had occurred.

"She had amnesia, couldn't remember what happened. She went (to the hospital) of her own accord because she knew she was bleeding and something was wrong," Anita McAuliffe said at her daughter's bond hearing.

Blackham went to the circus with her sister and her family, but without her 4-year-old daughter. She has no idea what happened after she entered the cramped stall and gave birth, her mother said.

McAuliffe was not at the circus, and it is not known whether Blackham went straight to the hospital or somewhere else after the event.

Blackham has cooperated with police since the hospital notified investigators of her condition hours after she arrived.

"She's had periods. There's been no sign whatsoever of her pregnancy," McAuliffe said.

Blackham is charged with one count of felony child abuse and one count of unlawful neglect toward a child. Her bond was set at $30,000, and jail records show she has been released. If convicted of both charges she could face up to 30 years in prison.

Blackham told the judge she had an idea who the baby's father is, but it wasn't her husband, whom she had been separated from for nearly a year.

Blackham's husband, Thomas Blackham, told a Greenville television station that his wife's mental condition went downhill while they were married, and he urged her to get help. He said he can't believe that she didn't know she was pregnant.

McAuliffe said her daughter's husband became abusive after returning from a year in Iraq, a charge Thomas Blackham denied in the TV interview.

Investigators estimate that the baby was left behind for 90 minutes before a cleaning crew pushed open the stall door and found the infant, his feet in the water and head on the rim of the toilet. They immediately told their supervisors Eder Serrano and Marco Calle, who rushed inside.

The blood and gore, which Calle described as "awful," stunned Serrano for about 15 seconds.

"First thing I told him was wear gloves if you're going to grab the baby," Serrano recalled telling his co-worker. "It was too late. He had already grabbed the baby."

Calle, 41, a father of three ranging in age from 10 to 17, put the baby on the bathroom's changing table, whispering "vas a estar bien, bebe."

By that time, Serrano had called 911 and was relaying in Spanish the operator's instructions. Calle tied a string around the umbilical cord to cut it. Paramedics arrived and whisked the baby away.