Scrubs figure again in baby's abduction

An infant abduction was quickly solved in part because the hospital used an infant alarm that quickly alerted staff to the kidnapping, according to hospital and police officials in Sanford, FL.

However, the incident also underscores how the scrubs worn by many health care workers can provide an easy disguise to criminals who want to blend in on a hospital unit. Police officials in Sanford report that a woman abducted a 1-day-old baby from a secure hospital unit at Central Florida Regional Hospital recently and smuggled the child out in a tote bag.

The infant was wearing a device that triggered an alarm when it passed an exit from the newborn area, and the hospital immediately was locked down as officials searched the grounds, according to statements from Darrel Presley, deputy chief of the Sanford Police Department, near Orlando. Hospital officials reported the abduction about 1:45 p.m. on March 28, 2008, and were able to provide a partial vehicle tag number.

Police in Lake Mary, FL, a nearby community, reported that they arrested 39-year-old Jennifer Latham about 3 p.m. the same day. She was pulled over because her vehicle matched a description of the vehicle witnesses described the kidnaper driving. The baby was found inside unharmed and was returned to the hospital and reunited with the parents.

Latham was questioned by police detectives, who determined that Latham apparently has no connection with the child's family, the police reported. On March 31, a judge released Latham with a monitoring device on her ankle until her trial on kidnapping charges, a move that the Lake Mary police criticized as too lenient.

Changed into scrubs after entering

Presley praised the hospital staff for acting quickly when the infant abduction alarm sounded. "But in just those few minutes that it takes to gather the information and disseminate it, she was able to walk from the maternity ward through the exit and then depart the hospital," he said at a press conference.

Hospital officials and the Sanford police initially believed they were looking for two women because a review of the hospital security videos showed what seemed to be two women in different clothes. But court documents filed in the case reveal what the police pieced together after Latham's arrest: According to the police, Latham wore street clothes and followed a maintenance worker into the maternity ward. Police say Latham acted alone. She changed into a hospital scrub shirt or a shirt that looked very much like one. She then convinced a mother to give up the newborn for an eye test. Moments later, she stuffed the baby into a tote bag and walked out of the facility.

Her exit was caught on the hospital's surveillance cameras. When the Lake Mary police stopped Latham, the officer's dash camera caught her trying to convince the officer that the baby belonged to her.

The use of scrubs to facilitate infant abductions has caused concern before. In 2006 and 2007, two hospitals in Lubbock, TX, were hit by separate kidnapers using scrubs to blend in with health care staff on newborn units. Both babies were recovered, and the kidnapers were arrested. After those incidents, some risk managers and security experts noted that scrubs are easily obtained and can be an effective disguise for criminals.

The woman arrested in the 2006 Lubbock kidnapping recently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to the maximum 10 years for kidnapping and an additional 10 years, to be served concurrently, for abandoning the baby when police were closing in on her. In the 2007 Lubbock kidnapping, a 22-year-old woman pleaded guilty to kidnapping the baby and was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Nov. 16, 2007. Rayshaun Parson received the minimum sentence allowed under the statute. She could have been sentenced to up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine.