As a student at Bob Jones Academy, Jessie Blackham talked about how much she loved kids. She told stories about her niece and carried pictures of the girl in her wallet. Now 24, Blackham has been charged with felony child abuse after giving birth to a boy at the Bi-Lo Center last Friday night and leaving him in the toilet.
“I’m shocked that she would do that. She was always very good with children,” said Taryn Habegger, a classmate of Blackham’s throughout elementary and high school who has kept up with her on Facebook. “I’m shocked that anybody would do that.”
Blackham,  is charged with felony child abuse and unlawful neglect of a child, which carries a 30-year prison sentence if convicted.
She was released from the Greenville County Detention Center Wednesday afternoon on $30,000 bond set at a hearing earlier in the day.
Dressed in an orange Greenville County Detention Center jumpsuit and shackled, Blackham answered Judge Matt Hawley with yeses and nos. When the questions required a longer answer, she answered in as few words as possible in a hushed monotone voice that was sometimes barely audible from the audience.
During the short hearing, her mother stood at her side, arm around her waist. After she was granted bond, she and her mother had a long embrace before she walked out of the courtroom, a police officer trailing just behind her.
Greenville Police Detective Tim Conroy said Blackham attended the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus last Friday night at the Bi-Lo Center with her boyfriend, her sister, her sister’s children and her sister’s husband. She went to the restroom because she was not feeling well.“She doesn’t remember anything after that,” the detective said.
Blackham’s mother told the judge her daughter showed no signs of being pregnant.
“She’s had periods,” said the mother, who did not give her name in court.

Looked the same

Blackham’s father, who also wasn’t identified by name, said the family has photographs of Blackham from 2008 through January and she looked the same.
“Nobody knew,” he said.
The baby weighed about six pounds and was nearly full term. His condition improves every day, Conroy said.
Blackham said her husband did not father the newborn. The Blackhams separated about a year ago after five years of marriage and Jessica Blackham has been living with her sister. The Blackhams have a four-year-old daughter.
When Hawley asked if she knew who the father was, Blackham answered, “I have an idea.”
Hawley told her the Department of Social Services needed to know that information because the man could have an interest in the child, who remains hospitalized and in the temporary custody of DSS.
Blackham’s mother told the judge Blackham’s husband was deployed in Iraq for a year and came home changed.
In an interview with WYFF, Thomas Blackham denied abusing his wife, who he considers “mentally wrong.” Blackham told the television station his wife believed aliens told her what to do. She left him in May after he returned from Iraq and refused to let him see their daughter, Katelyn.
Jessica Blackham’s mother told the judge her daughter voluntarily sought medical attention at St. Francis Eastside because she was bleeding. Her daughter was at home but had amnesia and didn’t know what happened, the mother said.
“We needed to find out what happened,” the mother said.
Jessica Blackham went straight to the Law Enforcement Center Tuesday afternoon after being discharged from the hospital.
Greenville Police Chief Terri Wilfong said the family had been cooperating with investigators since Saturday.
Blackham had no prior criminal record, Wilfong said.
Blackham graduated from Bob Jones Academy in 2004 and worked for the past year at the K-Mart in Easley.

The rescue
Two Bi-Lo Center employees cleaning after the circus plucked the newborn from the toilet’s cold water around 11:30 p.m.
Bi-Lo Center housekeeping manager Eder Serrano said, “It sounded like a cat, but you had to be real close to hear it.”
When he opened the door to the fourth stall, he couldn’t believe what he saw – a newborn baby, facing the wall, not moving, feet in the toilet water, blood everywhere.
He passed out for a few seconds.
Marco Calle, the Bi-Lo Center’s cleaning supervisor, pulled the baby out.
“I didn’t think,” he said. “I just tried to help him.”
The baby moved.
“I forgot everything,” he said. “I grabbed him.”
The placenta and umbilical cord were still attached.
Calle, who had been in the labor room when his first son was born 15 years ago, placed the infant on the baby-changing table.
Serrano called 911 and relayed instructions from the emergency medical services dispatcher.
Calle cleaned out the infant’s nose. He put his finger in the baby’s mouth, trying to remove whatever was causing the baby to not be able to breathe.
“He started crying then,” Calle said.
He wrapped the baby in a towel and tried to gently wash his face with warm water. The dispatcher told him to tie off the umbilical cord 6-inches from the baby’s belly button.
“His hands were shaking,” Serrano said.
The whole time he was helping the baby, Calle said he talked to the newborn in Spanish. “You’ll be OK, baby. You’re going to be OK.”
Serrano said he wasn’t supposed to be working that late on Friday night, but Calle called and told him they may not have enough crewmembers. The baby was discovered just as Serrano started to leave the building.
“I think God knows everything,” Serrano said. “I think we were in the right place. I think we make a good team. The only thing we were thinking was to save the baby.

A future president?

Calle said he’s thought about the baby every day since he pulled him out of the toilet.
“He was very beautiful,” he said.
Calle said he wants to visit the baby in the hospital. “I want to see him to be sure he’s OK,” he said.
Serrano said he’s happy the baby will be OK. “Maybe he’ll be a senator for South Carolina or president. You don’t know,” he said.
Both men said they don’t have bad thoughts about Blackham.
“I feel compassion for the baby and then compassion for the mother,” Serrano said. “I don’t know what situation made her do this. We’ll never know. The authorities and God are the only ones who can do justice.”
“The important thing is the baby’s alive,” Calle said.
Roger Newton, president and general manager of the Bi-Lo Center, said the arena has a plan to deal with all types of emergencies, but the discovery of an infant in a toilet isn’t one of them.
“This is not in the playbook,” he said. “We’ve had some unfortunate situations in the past, but nothing like this.”
Newton said Serrano and Calle’s actions were “quick, decisive and proper.”
“From our perspective, they’re heroes,” Newton said.
“Those workers saved that baby’s life,” said Wilfong.

Another choice

Wilfong said Blackham could have given the newborn to a paramedic working at the Bi-Lo Center during the circus and walked away free and clear under “Daniel’s Law.”
Daniel’s Law was passed in 2000 and allows parents to leave newborns less than 30 days old at fire departments, police departments, medical facilities or churches that are staffed at the time without being subject to prosecution.
DSS says 11 babies have been abandoned or released by their parents since 2006.
Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins pledged to prosecute the case vigorously.
He said he hopes others who find themselves in the same situation of an unwanted pregnancy would seek a safe haven under Daniel’s Law.
“It’s a free pass,” he said.
Wilkins said he could not seek an attempted murder charge with the evidence he has now.
To prosecute for attempted murder, prosecutors must prove the person “had a depraved heart.” Wilkins said he would have to prove Blackham intended to kill the child.
“In this case, we have evidence she intended to abandon the baby,” he said. “The distinction may be slight, but legally, it’s a big distinction.”