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Baby gets a name, a funeral

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MEMORY: Desmond Roland releases a butterfly in honor of his son Alexander during a funeral Monday at Prairie Street Cemetery in Elkhart.
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CLOSURE: A funeral at Prairie Street Cemetery was held Monday in honor of Alexander Liam Roland, who passed away in March 2016.

BY DANI MESSICK - dmessick@elkharttruth.com

ELKHART — The family of a newborn who died in 2016 finally received some closure Monday afternoon.

Desmond Roland of Springfield, Illinois, brought his son, Alexander Liam Roland, to be buried near the rest of his family at Prairie Street Cemetery.

Alexander died on March 8, 2016. His mother, Mikayla Munn, had given birth to him in the bathtub of her dormroom at Manchester University.

Munn pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent and in July was sentenced to 12 years prison, but that wasn’t the end of the story.

“When people come to a cemetery and they’re looking through the grass, they’re looking for a name, and when that name marks the earth, healing can happen in them,” said Linda Znachko, founder of He Knows Your Name Ministry based in Indianapolis.

Znachko officiated the funeral for Alexander on Monday night.

“(Cemeteries) tell such a story,” she said. “They tell the story of generations. There’s such an inheritance in that and it gives us context in our lives.”

Znachko has been working with parents and children in similar situations since 2009, when she asked the Marion County Coroner’s Office about an unnamed deceased infant.

“They named it ‘Baby Doe,’ and I knew I had to do something,” she said.

Dying without a name, Alexander Liam was a Baby Doe for a time. His father gave him the name Alexander because it reminded him of Greek king Alexander the Great.

“I wanted to be able to come home when I’m here and know that he’s somewhere, not in a trash bag or something,” Roland said. “This has given me something to have, to have something to come home to, to remember him. There’s many people who have kids who don’t always give them the proper service.”

Roland said he has spoken to Munn’s parents who, along with their daughter, supported the funeral.

“I want people to know that I love Mikayla very much and I forgive her,” Roland said.

Cases like Munn’s and Roland’s aren’t unheard of, especially in college communities.

Nonprofit organization Safe Haven Baby Boxes was started in Indiana to help combat the issue, offering new mothers a safe place to bring their babies when they believe they have no other options.

Znachko recalls a mother driving 50 miles to drop her baby off in LaPorte County, but she said many young women aren’t even aware of the resource, so tragedies do occur.

“I didn’t plan to start a nonprofit,” Znachko said. “I didn’t plan to do anything but take care of this one baby (in 2009) that I’d heard about.”

When she called, she was told that, in Marion County at least, the baby would be placed into a mass unmarked grave, with anyone else whose family could not afford a proper burial.

“I didn’t want this baby to just be put aside,” she said. “I just feel like making sure that every child of God has an image- bearing name on them. It really gives them purpose and value. It’s the fact that the baby lived at all, and I see that there’s a purpose to every life.”

Znachko names unnamed babies all over the country, helps families who can’t afford burials for infants, youths and even parents who pass away. To date, she has personally claimed and named 13 babies, seven from an inner-city hospital whose parents never returned for them.

One baby found at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis in 2014 was later named Amelia. Her footprint is used on Safe Haven Baby Boxes everywhere as a reminder of the humanity involved.

“The value of her life is leaving a legacy so that when moms come courageously to anonymously surrender their babies in a Safe Haven Baby Box, they see the footprint of a baby that went before them whose mom didn’t have that option,” Znachko said. “She’s changing the way people look at the Safe Haven Law.”

Znachko said every life has value.

“With Alexander, I don’t think we know exactly what the purpose of his life is going to be or what his legacy will be, or why it happened this way – we don’t know,” she said. “There’s purpose and a plan of God in every person’s life.”