TOWN OF BELOIT, Wis. - Federal prosecutors charged a Denver woman on Friday with kidnapping her half-sister's 5-day-old baby boy from a Wisconsin home. The charges were filed just hours after police discovered the infant in a storage crate outside an eastern Iowa gas station, alive and well in single-digit weather.
Kirstin Smith faces life in prison if she's convicted of kidnapping Kayden Powell, who disappeared overnight Wednesday.
The newborn's parents reported him missing from a Town of Beloit home in southern Wisconsin where the family was staying, early Thursday morning. According to an affidavit accompanying the kidnapping charge, Smith is the mother's half-sister - the infant's aunt - and had come to visit the family in Wisconsin. She left Thursday morning, and several hours later the parents reported Kayden missing.
Police arrested Smith at a West Branch, Iowa, gas station on Thursday morning on an outstanding warrant from an unrelated case in Texas. The baby was not in the car, although Smith had baby clothes, a fake pregnancy belly and a stroller with her, according to the affidavit. Hundreds of officers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, meanwhile, began searching possible stops on her route.
West Branch Police Chief Mike Horihan was searching the area around a BP gas station off Interstate 80 — about 500 yards from the Kum & Go station where Smith was arrested — when he heard cries that led him to a closed storage crate alongside the building. The baby was inside the crate, swaddled in a blanket, but healthy and responsive.
West Branch is about 180 miles southwest of the Town of Beloit.
"I had tears in my eyes," BP station manager Jay Patel said, recalling his reaction to the police chief telling him that the infant had been found. "It's good news but it's sad, too."
Milwaukee FBI Acting Special Agent-In-Charge G.B. Jones said the effort now is "clearly focused on reuniting mother and child and the rest of the family members with the child."
It's unclear how long the newborn was outside in the cold, Jones said. The temperature was about minus 10 Thursday night in the town and only in the single digits when the child was found. The infant was taken to an area hospital for evaluation, Chief Horihan said.
The baby's great-grandfather, Brian Bennett, said he was "surprised" the child was in good condition.
"It's funny he lived that long outside. A miracle, I guess," Bennett, 68, said. "They were just lucky they found him."