Image of the Missoula County Courthouse
Missoula County Courthouse; image courtesy of Mfield via Wikimedia Commons,

Nothing could have prepared Missoula County Sheriff’s Deputy Ross Jessop and U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Nick Scholz for what they would find while searching the woods of Montana for a missing infant. While searching diligently, they heard a faint whimper around 2:30 a.m. earlier this week on Sunday, alerting the two that the infant was near. Scanning the ground around them, Jessop eventually found the “cold, wet, soiled 5-month-old boy face-down buried under a pile of debris.”

Upon finding the missing child, Jessop said, “I abandoned any police training or any chance of saving evidence there – I didn’t care. Jessop, a father of three, added, “I scooped up the baby, made sure he was breathing. He had a sparkle in his eye. I warmed him up, gave him a couple of kisses and just held him.” According to him the infant was “cold, hungry and had scrapes and bruises, but was otherwise in good condition.” After wrapping the boy in a coat, his rescuers carried him to safety.

When commenting on the events that transpired and the relief of finding the infant, Scholz said, “It was the happiest 15-20 minutes of my career. I was just stunned. Walking into this situation, you were mentally prepared for the worst.”

After leaving the woods, the infant was secured in an ambulance for a trip to the hospital. Along the way, the charging document claims the baby “coughed up small sticks.”

At the hospital, Missoula County Sheriff’s Capt. Bill Burt said the infant “drank a whole bottle of Pedialyte in under a minute, then drank two more.” He said the baby grasped tightly to his finger while he drank before drifting off to sleep as “hospital officials hooked him up to an IV.” According to hospital reports, the child was “treated for dehydration, lack of food and scratches, cuts and bruises and was placed in the custody of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.”

Image of a sign for the Lolo Hot Springs
Sign for the Lolo Hot Springs; image courtesy of djembayz via Wikimedia Commons,

How did the infant end up outside and abandoned alone, though? Who was responsible for such neglect? For starters, the man responsible for abandoning the child was Francis Crowley, 32. Prior to the incident, Crowley was living with the infant’s mother and the child in a “camp near the hot springs in Lolo National Forest.” When asked why he left the baby in the woods alone, he told investigators that he “left the boy in the woods after crashing his car because the baby was heavy.”

As a result of his actions, Crowley now faces a variety of charges, including “assault on a minor and criminal endangerment.” He appeared in court “from jail by video, and broke down repeatedly” as the allegations against him were read out loud. According to witnesses, he “doubled over, then fell to the floor and covered his face with his hands, sobbing.” Twice he said, “I love that f—— kid.”

This wasn’t the first time Crowley has tangled with the law, though. A native of Portland, Oregon, Crowley “was previously arrested in June in Missoula on a fugitive warrant from Oregon for a probation violation,” according to Missoula County prosecutors. On top of that, Deputy County Attorney Brittany Williams said Crowley “has a string of prior arrests that include burglary, assault, drug and criminal mischief charges.”

The events that led up to when the infant was found began around 8 p.m. on Saturday when deputies were called to Lolo Hot Springs “because Crowley was creating a disturbance and threatening to fire a gun.According to deputies, when they arrived “Crowley was disoriented, likely because of drug use, and unable to help them find the baby or say how long ago” it had been since he crashed his vehicle along an abandoned road. At one point he said, “the baby was lying on the side of the road or had died and was buried in the woods.”

Jessop recognized the abandoned road where the crash occurred “as one that he started searching a little while earlier until it got too rough.” Fearing for the infant’s life, he called for a “four-wheel drive vehicle and he and Scholz found the wreck beyond the road’s end.” From there, the two “followed a trail of items that included baby formula and a diaper bag before hearing the child.”

While looking back on the incident, Jessop said the “rescue gave him encouragement in what he described as an emotionally draining job.” He added:

“To experience this, to have God help me, let me experience something like this, just gives me an extra boost. You know what? Cops actually do matter sometimes. We actually do a good job. So it’s pretty encouraging for me.”

For now, Crowley’s bail is set at $200,000 and his next court date is scheduled for July 25.


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