1-day-old baby found dead in a trash bin sparks call for justice in Kearny

Nearly eleven months after a one-day-old baby was found dead in a trash bin, a small group of citizens are still pressing for justice in Kearny, NJ.

Justice for Baby Matthew - Kearny, NJ - Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez

Through social media organizing, candlelight vigils, and a phone call campaign, a small group of citizens have dedicated themselves to “Justice for Baby Matthew” and are demanding Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez file criminal charges in the mysterious case of a newborn baby found lifeless in Kearny, NJ.

On November 2, 2020, The Observer, a Kearny-based newspaper, reported an infant’s death was under investigation by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO). Two weeks later, The Jersey Journal published a brief story which stated that the HCPO was “investigating an infant death that occurred Oct. 25 in Kearny” and “the death was reported on Forest Street.”

On December 29, 2020, The Observer revealed that the baby was actually found in the trash. In his 2020 year-in-review, journalist Kevin Canessa, Jr. wrote:

According to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, on Oct. 25, 2020, the lifeless body of a newborn baby was found in a trash bin at a residence in Kearny. The Regional Medical Examiner is performing an autopsy on the baby. To date, this is the only information the HCPO has released to the public.

Frustrated with perceived inaction by local authorities, town residents and citizens with roots in Kearny began organizing on social media. A Facebook group titled  “Justice for Baby Matthew” was created on May 26, 2021. A similarly named Change.org petition – with over 2,000 signatures – was launched approximately three months ago and states “although the mother of this child was identified and is known to live in the home where the baby’s remains were discovered by police, no arrests or charges have been made.”

On June 29, 2021, Canessa wrote that “a community remains up in arms about the delays in getting answers and very few details are known about the case.” Nevertheless, new details reported by the The Observer include 1) the baby’s body had “since been released by the northeast Regional Medical Examiner’s Office”; 2) the baby’s body was buried at a local cemetery “earlier this year”; and 3) the HCPO “still has no answers as to the manner of death.”

Notably, the Observer story confirmed that Matthew was the name given to the baby by his family, but it doesn’t mention a specific date when the remains were released. The petition claims the remains were released to the family in February.

In response to criticism about news coverage surrounding the case, Canessa wrote “social media, especially Facebook, has become a cesspool of inuendo, false statements, inaccurate comments and outlandish accusations, most notably that there’s a vast conspiracy to cover up the details of this case.”

Furthermore, responding to allegations of a possible cover-up, Observer co-owner Lisa M. Feorenzo said:

The reality of the situation is that I am just as frustrated at the snail’s pace this is taking. But we have to remember — this isn’t an ordinary time. We’re still dealing with the effects of a pandemic. I believe if this had happened in 2019 instead of 2020, there would have been a resolution already in the same time frame, if not quicker. But it wasn’t 2019. It happened when it happened and it’s important to get it right rather than fast…

… you can’t cover up information unless you possess that information. And until that information is released by the proper authority, in this case the HCPO, there is nothing to cover up. To say that on social media is ridiculous. And it’s irresponsible. As a newspaper, the rules of the road are a lot different than the rules of social media.

On July 9, 2021, two days prior to a planned candlelight vigil for Baby Matthew, Suarez penned an open letter regarding the status of the investigation. In the letter, the county prosecutor said that eight months “may seem like a long time,” but added that “this is not an unusual length of time for this type of investigation.”

At the end of the letter, published during the apex of social media controversy surrounding the case, Suarez noted that “as much as we want this to move quickly, we only get one chance to do this and we want it to be done correctly.”

Kennedy Dasilva speaks at ‘Justice for Baby Matthew’ candlelight vigil held on the night of July 11, 2021, in Kearny’s Town Hall Bicentennial Park.

On the same day as Suarez’s letter, NJ Advance Media (NJ.com) published a story that stated “there have been few answers about the circumstances or cause of death,” but didn’t mention any details reported by The Observer.

The NJ Advance Media story did report on the controversy surrounding the candlelight vigil:

Attendees will not be calling for answers or updates on the investigation at the vigil, instead choosing to pray, make remarks and have a moment of silence for the baby boy, said Kennedy Dasilva, one of the vigil’s organizers.

“It’s to remember him and honor him,” said Dasilva. “To let him know that he’s not forgotten. He will be remembered as long as we’re around.”

But Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos sees the vigil as yet another opportunity for the organizers to publicly shame the infant’s family and to put undue pressure on the Prosecutor’s Office to resolve the investigation. The vigil was planned and scheduled despite objections from the infant’s mother and family and is another publicity grab by organizers, he said.

The vigil itself drew approximately 80-100 people of different ages, genders, and complexions. Hundreds more watched live on Facebook. Though no specifics were mentioned, it was apparent that the mother of Baby Matthew was a teenage girl.

A source living in Kearny told Real Garden State that what’s been reported about the newborn’s death has silently divided the sleepy town like nothing before. “It’s bigger than politics or social media drama, lifelong friendships have been ruined over whether we should mind our own business,” the source said.

Adding fuel to the fire is the deceased baby’s grandfather, a handyman known around town that’s also active on social media (for better or worse), per the source. For example, in a video that was shared widely on social media, the brother of a local U.S. Postal Worker charged with throwing out general election mail-in ballots blasted the handyman for commenting on his sibling’s predicament.

Despite the suspicious circumstances, the family of Baby Matthew has been publicly supported by members of the local political establishment. In a public Facebook post, former Town Council President Barbara Cifelli-Sherry – whose brother is Hudson County Commissioner Albert J. Cifelli – described the vigil organizers as “pseudo-Christians” that wanted to “harass a local family that has suffered an horrific tragedy.”

“What about the child who is surviving? Anybody offering prayers for her? Where is the compassion? Instead they hurl baseless accusations against the family and local authorities,” Cifelli-Sherry said.

While the “Justice for Baby Matthew” group doesn’t have much political muscle, their list of supporters includes an uncle to Baby Matthew. In a Facebook comment expressing gratitude for the group, the uncle wrote “I lost my entire family but all in all, there’s one person that needs the empathy and justice.”

Regarding the HCPO’s investigation, on May 27, 2021, the uncle wrote “for a long period of time, I was in direct contact with the detective who was in charge of the case. He has dodged all communication with me since February… around the same time frame that Matthew was buried.” In a separate post the following day, the uncle wrote “I pray this one day goes to trial.”

Of note, the uncle posted a picture of the gravesite which had a lawn sign that indicated Baby Matthew died on October 25, 2020; however, the lawn sign has since been replaced by a gravestone indicating the baby died on October 24, 2020.

Ultimately, for those demanding action by the HCPO, justice delayed feels like justice denied. Nonetheless, there might be external factors aggravating the situation.

The Observer reported that a source of theirs with information relating to the case said “the medical examiner who was handling the baby’s autopsy retired in the middle of it and left the investigation incomplete.” In the prosecutor’s open letter, Suarez wrote the HCPO’s Homicide Unit is in “regular contact with the Medical Examiner’s Office requesting updates on their investigation. As of present, we are still awaiting an official cause and manner of death.”

That said, some members of the Homicide Unit are currently the subject of a pending criminal investigation stemming from missing cash, which was announced on April 6, 2021. It’s unclear how that might impact the handling of the Baby Matthew investigation.

Finally, as Suarez wrote in her open letter, cases “involving the death of a child carry special significance.” Even though some have understandably grown impatient, in order for there to be justice, it’s vital the HCPO gets it right.

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