Oct. 6, 2010 -- A Craigslist advertisement with a graphic photo of a newborn and a threat to abandon the baby in a trash can has Colorado police both hunting for a possibly desperate teenage mother and investigating whether the ad could be a hoax.
"Desperate baby will die if someone doesn't pick it up," the advertisement's headline screamed in capital letters when it was flagged by a Craigslist user and sent to Colorado Springs police last week.
The ad contained a picture of the baby on what looks like blue surgical dressing, still covered in after-birth with the umbilical cord attached.
Colorado Springs Sgt. Steve Noblitt called the photo "pretty convincing."
"I'm a teenare (sic) mother who was kicked out from my moms and dads house because i was pregnant 9 months ago," the ad read. "i have just given birth and i don't know what to do with the baby,my bf will put it in the trashcan right in front of the apartments so somone can pick it up."
"I JUST DON"T KNOW WHAT TO DO!!!" the ad read. "please help my baby."
Noblitt said police were investigating the ad within 20 minutes of it being posted and immediately sent officers to the address provided on Craiglist. But they did not find an abandoned baby anywhere in the neighborhood.
"We checked all the trash cans and Dumpsters," he said.
They also traced the IP address from which the ad was posted, but the couple living at the corresponding home had no involvement and told police that they had been using an unlocked Wi-Fi signal, meaning anyone nearby could have used it to acces the Internet.
Three days later, on Monday, they were made aware of a second advertisement that again said a baby would be abandoned, this time in a park. Again, a police search turned up nothing.
"This ad, though, we don't know if it's connected to the first or what," Noblitt said. "It had the smell of maybe a copycat, but who knows."
"Bottom line," he said, "we went there and there was no baby."
Both cases have been turned over to the Colorado Springs Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children Unit to be investigated as both a real threat and a hoax.
"It's our responsibility to treat it as if it's real," he said. "If we don't, we're not doing our jobs."
Craigslist did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Police on Threat to Newborn: 'We've Done Everything We Can'
The department has also used the ads as a reason to heavily promote Colorado's safe haven law, which allows parents to surrender a newborn to a hospital or fire station within 72 hours of birth.
"We are concerned in both directions," he said. "We feel like we've done everything we can, if they are a legitimate ad, for the family to turn the baby in."
If police can confirm the ads were fake and trace the original poster or posters, the could possibly face charges of Internet fraud or using the Internet to create fear or havoc.
Noblitt said they had also considered charges for filing a false police report, but since the threat was made on Facebook and not to police, it wouldn't stick.
Both ads have since been taken down.
Internet pranks and crimes using Craigslist have frustrated law enforcement and Internet experts for years. But computer forensic investigator Philip Rosenthal said that the site is often just a vehicle for people looking to stir up trouble.
"If we take away the mystique of electronics and the Internet and all of these kinds of exciting kind of sexy communication abilities – what is Craigslist?" he said. "It's really just a big bulletin board."
He said he doubted the Colorado baby advertisement was real, simply for the fact that someone went to all that effort to post the picture and type out her pleas.
"If someone has a baby that they don't know what to do with, they're just going to drop it at someone's doorstep or they're going to drop it at the hospital," Rosenthal said. "It's a hoax. I'll bet my last bottom dollar on it. And I'm not a gambler."'