A Pemberton Township woman apparently gave birth shortly before she set fire to her baby in the middle of a road Friday night, a court record says.
An umbilical cord and placenta were still attached to the infant girl when township police officers lifted the baby from Simontown Road around 10:50 p.m., says a probable-cause statement for charges against Hyphern-Kemberly Dorvilier, 22.
The baby, wrapped in a “smoldering towel and papers,” was flown to a Philadelphia hospital, where she died shortly after 1 a.m. Medical records showed the baby had third-degree burns on about 60 percent of her body.
Evidence suggests Dorvilier gave birth at her home, about 11/2 miles from the fire scene, the court record says. Family members told a pastor Tuesday they did not know Dorvilier was pregnant; they told police they were unaware of the baby’s birth.
According to the statement, a neighbor encountered Dorvilier when he checked on a blaze near a parked vehicle on Simontown Road, a narrow and isolated country lane.
The resident, David Joseph, told police Dorvilier was standing near the flames with a container of accelerant in her hand. Dorvilier, who told Joseph she was burning dog waste, poured a bottle of water onto the flames at his request.
“At that point the baby began crying from under the towels and papers, which were on fire,” the report said. Dorvilier tried to flee, leading Joseph to tackle her while his wife, Tara, called police. A third neighbor grabbed the keys from the ignition of Dorvilier’s Land Rover.
Dorvilier, who is charged with murder, had a lighter in her pocket, the statement said.
According to the record, Dorvilier told the neighbors, “It’s not my baby,” but made no other comments.
Police said Dorvilier “appeared to have just given birth to the child.” The report said the woman was taken to the emergency room at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, where she appeared to be bleeding on a gurney.
Two officers went to Dorvilier’s home in the 200 block of Rutgers Avenue, where a trail of blood led from the house to a driveway. Blood also was found in the downstairs area of the split-level and on a toilet. “There was a bloody rag also located in the bathroom of the residence,” the report said.
According to the report, Dorvilier’s mother and sister said they did not know she had given birth.
Pastor Richard Esher of Browns Mills United Methodist Church, who spoke with relatives Tuesday, said family members were unaware of the pregnancy. Esher said Dorvilier’s mother had named the slain baby Angelica.
“This family is devastated and in so much pain and confusion,” said Esher, whose 300-seat church will host a candlelight vigil for the baby at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Esher said family members described a visit with Dorvilier in custody as “very remorse-filled.”
At an initial court appearance Tuesday, Dorvilier said she had retained an attorney, but she did not know the lawyer’s name. She quietly answered, “Yes, your honor,” to most questions posed by Superior Court Judge Philip E. Haines.
The judge continued Dorvilier’s cash bail of $500,000. If she’s able to raise that amount, Haines said, Dorvilier’s release will be contingent on a psychiatric evaluation.
An expert in pregnancy-related psychiatric disorders asserted Dorvilier, being held at Burlington County’s Corrections and Work Release Center, should not have to wait for mental-health intervention.
“Any woman who harms an infant should have a full and complete psychiatric evaluation,” said Ann Smith, president of an Oregon-based nonprofit, Postpartum Support International.
Smith said it was not possible to diagnose a medical problem based on media reports. But she noted that an estimated two of every 1,000 births results in a psychosis and that about 4 percent of those mothers kill their babies.
“The woman experiencing psychosis is experiencing a break from reality,” said Smith, who also noted other disorders result in psychoses. “In her psychotic state, the delusions and beliefs make sense to her; they feel very meaningful and are often religious.”