The U.S. Army in Alaska has deferred to local Alaska authorities in the case of a 24-year-old enlisted soldier who stands accused of giving birth to a baby girl and then abandoning the child, who was still alive at the time, in a park near her Eagle River home and just miles from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the combined Army-Air Force northwest of Anchorage, police said on Saturday.
Army Spc. Ashley Ard of Virginia is married and the mother to another 14-month-old daughter. Yet she gave birth to the newborn girl without seeing a medical professional, investigators with the Crimes Against Children unit of the Anchorage Police Department said at a special press conference held just before Ard was arraigned at the city jail.
According to police, Ard abandoned the baby girl on Oct. 15 in Turner Park. A dogwalker found the baby wrapped in a towel later that morning; by the time police arrived, the baby girl had died, Sgt. Detective Cindi Stanton said. Ten days later, a grand jury in Anchorage indicted Ard for murder.
At the Saturday press conference, Stanton said the Army had deferred to Anchorage police and a civilian investigation, which led to the second-degree murder indictment announced Oct. 25, the day Ard was arrested. If convicted, the young woman faces up to 99 years in prison and a half-million dollar fine.
Ard's pregnancy had reached its full term, Stanton said, but her chain of command in the U.S. Army of Alaska may not have known she was expecting. Stanton said the department could not detail why Ard chose to abandon the baby in the park, citing an ongoing investigation.
Shortly after the press conference, Ard appeared in court across town. The weekend judge chose to keep the woman's bail at $250,000.
Ard told the judge she makes $1,500 to $2,000 a month in the Army but does not own any property and is still paying off her vehicle. She also told the judge that she supports a 14-month-old girl. The judge called for a public defender to represent Ard, a native of Portsmouth, Va., who reported to Alaska in late September, according to a release of information prepared by JBER officials on Friday.
On Oct. 15, police received a call from someone walking through Turner Park in Eagle River, an Anchorage suburb of more than 20,000, many of whom serve in the Army or Air Force at JBER. The caller reported finding the newborn baby, wrapped in a towel and not breathing. Police said Saturday the caller phoned them using a cellphone. The person's dog had sniffed around a bush the baby was tucked under. The caller reportedly pulled the dog away from the bush and found the newborn, Stanton said.
Police went to the park, accompanied by crime scene detectives to investigate the abandoned infant. Later that afternoon, Anchorage Fire Department medics informed the police that they were helping a female in Eagle River who had injuries consistent with someone who had given birth.
Detectives interviewed the woman, only identified as Ard when the grand jury handed down its indictment, and determined she was the mother of the baby. Ard gave birth to the girl at her home in Eagle River then left with the newborn just before 1 in the morning on Oct. 15. She reportedly went to Turner Park and left the baby under a bush, wrapped in a towel.
The baby was sent to the state Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy, the results of which are still pending.
Abandoned babies are less common now than in the past due at least in part to Alaska's Safe Haven law, said Sgt. Cindi Stanton in a previous interview. The law allows mothers to drop off newborns up to 21 days old with police officers, firefighters or emergency medical technicians and at hospitals and fire or police stations without fear of prosecution.