Infant abductions rare in U.S., study finds

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 3, 2008 7:29pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Infant abductions are increasingly rare in the United States, with the average kidnapper likely to be an overweight woman who has feigned pregnancy, according to a report released on Wednesday.

The unusual report in the American Journal of Nursing examines 247 cases of infant abductions between 1982 and 2006, including murders in which a fetus was cut from the mother's womb.

It found that kidnappings of newborns from hospital wards are much rarer than they were, in part due to heightened security measures, while attacks at homes and in public increased.

Both were rare, said Ann Wolbert Burgess, a psychiatric nursing professor at Boston College, who led the study.

Her team worked with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing on the report.

They detailed one case.

"Last March a woman slipped onto the labor-and-delivery unit at Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford, Florida, changed into scrubs in an empty room, and took a newborn from his mother on the pretext that he needed an eye examination," they wrote.

"She hid the one-day-old boy in a tote bag and left the hospital. Although the infant was wearing a device that sounded an alarm when he left the unit, the woman eluded security and drove away with the child."

The woman was found, the infant recovered and the hospital fined, the researchers noted.

They came up with a profile of the most likely infant kidnapper that was distributed to hospitals in 1993.

"From 1993 through 2006, the number of abductions in these settings dramatically declined, while those from homes and public places began to increase," the researchers wrote.

Violence was used in 30 of the cases.

"In 22 cases, the infant's mother was killed; in two cases, both parents were murdered," Burgess's team wrote. "A cesarean section was forcibly performed in nine cases: eight of these mothers and three fetuses died."

More than 90 percent of the abductors were arrested.

According to the profile, the researchers said, "the typical abductor:

* is a woman between the ages of 12 and 50 and is often overweight.

* is compulsive and frequently uses manipulation and deceit to gain access.

* often indicates she has either lost a baby or cannot have one.

* lives in or is familiar with the community in which the abduction occurs.

* can provide good care for the baby once the abduction occurs.

* is often married or living with a man.

* visits nursery and maternity units at more than one facility before the abduction and asks detailed questions about procedures and unit layout; the abductor 'may also try to abduct from the home setting.'

* usually plans the abduction but doesn't necessarily target a specific infant; often seizes any opportunity that presents.

* frequently impersonates a nurse or other health care provider."

(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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