A 24-year-old woman was arrested Wednesday after police say she left her infant daughter in the woods, claiming she needed a "fresh start."
Jennifer L. Cutruzzula of Wall told East McKeesport police that she placed the 8-month-old on a hillside in Wall late Wednesday afternoon with a bottle of milk by her side before returning home, according to a criminal complaint.
A neighbor went to look for the girl in the woods and found her soaking wet and covered in mud, with her face and neck exposed.
Police charged Ms. Cutruzzula with endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person, according to court records.
The infant was taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC for evaluation and since released.
Witnesses who saw Ms. Cutruzzula walking down Irwin Street carrying a small child called 911 shortly before 6 p.m. when they saw her return without the girl, police wrote in the complaint.
One of those witnesses said he saw the woman place the child on muddy hillside and return to a car on Irwin Street. He then went to the woods to retrieve the girl.
Soon after the 911 call, a woman, later identified as Ms. Cutruzzula, ran past the officer's patrol car, saying she had fallen in the woods and needed help.
A group of people who had just come out of the wooded area pointed at her and told police, according to the complaint, "That is her."
Ms. Cutruzzula told police she was having "family issues" with her mother and stepfather. She said she "thought she was doing the right thing," police wrote in the complaint.
At a late-morning press conference, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. used Ms. Cutruzzula's story to remind new parents considering abandoning their children that they have another option.
The Safe Haven program started about a decade ago in Allegheny County and expanded nationwide. Parents who can't take care of their infants, Mr. Zappala said, can enter any hospital and drop off the child as long as abuse is not suspected.
"It's as simple as walking into a hospital and saying 'I want you to take that child,'" he said.
Two Pennsylvania state senators have proposed legislation to expand the law, giving police and fire departments the ability to accept abandoned children.
Mr. Zappala said Ms. Cutruzzela will likely be treated at a behavioral clinic and prosecutors will review her charges -- a felony and a misdemeanor.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1944 and on Twitter: @borntolede.