Albuquerque police officer adopts homeless mother’s opioid-addicted newborn

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Police officers will often say there’s no such thing as a routine call when you’re patrolling the streets.

But when Albuquerque, New Mexico, police officer Ryan Holets responded to a possible theft at a nearby convenience store, it had all the hallmarks of a mundane assignment he could quickly clear from the call log.

It didn’t turn out that way.

As Holets left the convenience store on Sept. 23, he noticed out of the corner of his eye a couple sitting on the grass against a cement wall.

It appeared the man and woman were shooting up heroin in broad daylight behind the convenience store.

Holets turned on his body camera and approached the couple, but he wasn’t prepared for what he saw. The woman was in the middle of injecting a needle into her companion’s arm. Then he noticed the woman was pregnant.

“It’s not every day I see a sight like that and it just made me really sad,” he said.

Crystal Champ, 35, looked slightly dazed and agitated in the body camera footage as Holets is heard beginning to scold her. She told the officer that she was almost eight months pregnant and an addict.

“You’re going to kill your baby,” Holets is heard saying on the bodycam footage. “Why do you have to be doing that stuff? It’s going to ruin your baby.”

In the video, Champ is seen breaking down in tears after hearing this. She said the officer’s words cut deeply because, even though she’s pro-choice, the idea of having an abortion was never an option for her.

“I was like how dare you judge me. You have no idea how hard this is,” Champ said. “I know what a horrible person I am and what a horrible situation I’m in.”

Champ, who has battled addiction since she was a teenager, sat down for an interview outside of a tent where she lives in Albuquerque.

Champ has been homeless for more than two years. She detailed a life time of battling heroin and crystal meth addiction and how the drug controls every moment of her life, spending up to $50 a day on scoring hits of heroin simply so she can “get well.”

She’s tried multiple times to get clean, but failed.

“I did give up. I just decided this was going to be my life,” Champ said. “It just keeps coming back and ruining my life.”

In the body camera footage, Holets questions Champ and her companion for almost 11 minutes. He focused on Champ and tried to figure out whether she fully understood the danger drug use was inflicting on her unborn child.

In the course of the conversation, Champ emotionally told Holets that she desperately hoped someone would adopt her baby. Champ said the words triggered a change in the officer’s demeanor.

“He became a human being instead of a police officer,” Champ said.

Holets made the call to not charge the couple with drug possession but he couldn’t shake the voice in his mind telling him that this was his chance to help and truly make a difference.

Holets showed Champ a picture of his wife and four children, including a 10-month old baby and in that moment offered to adopt her baby.

“I was led by God to take the chance,” Holets said. “God brought us all together. I really don’t have any other way to explain it.”

Champ was stunned and says she looked at him to “make sure his eyes were genuine and that I could see his soul.” She realized instantly, her prayers had been answered.

But there was one problem: Holets offered to adopt Champ’s baby but had not told his wife about it.

Rebecca Holets was just a few miles away at a going-away party for a friend. Holets jumped in his police car and drove over to the party to break the news.

Holets walked up to his wife, who was holding their 10-month old baby, and said he had just met a pregnant woman who was shooting up heroin and that he offered to adopt the baby.

The couple had discussed adopting a child in the future but were waiting for their youngest child to grow a little older. When Holets delivered the shocking news at the party, Rebecca never hesitated.

“He already knew my heart on the issue and he knew that I would be totally onboard with it,” Rebecca Holets said.

The Holets say they see many in the world around them who desperately need stability. They know they can’t help every child, but Rebecca Holets knew she could take on the challenge of raising another baby.

“We feel God has called us to do that,” Rebecca Holets said. “It’s been on our hearts for a while.”

On Oct. 12, Champ gave birth to a baby girl and the Holets family named her Hope.

Ryan Holets was at the hospital for the delivery and he kept thinking back to the surreal turn of events that brought a young police officer to this moment with a pregnant, homeless heroin addict.

A few days later when Rebecca Holets walked into the nursery with Champ, it would be the last time the birth mother would see the newborn.

Rebecca Holets watched Champ fawn over how beautiful the little girl looked.

“I love you. Goodbye,” Rebecca Holets recalled Champ saying to the baby. “And then she turns to me and says ‘Take care of her for me.’ And I said, ‘I will take good care of her and you take good care of yourself.’ It was super emotional.”

Rebecca Holets said from that moment she was Hope’s new mother.

Hope represents an alarming trend in the United States, babies born addicted to opiates.

The medical term for a baby exposed to opioid abuse in the womb is, neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in 2016 that determined the number of neonatal abstinence cases tripled between 1999 and 2013.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that a baby suffering from opioid withdrawal is born every 25 minutes in the United States and that these babies face developmental issues.

The Holets say Hope suffered the painful process of detoxing and withdrawals and even endured methadone treatment.

Babies suffering from NAS usually endure abnormal sleep patterns, are difficult to console and have trouble feeding. The withdrawal symptoms are just as intense for babies as adults.

Hope is no longer in the hospital. The Holets family takes her for weekly medical checkups but mostly they’re beginning to settle into their new routine.

Champ’s future is bleak. She’s still battling addiction and remains homeless. Champ was also given up for adoption as a newborn.

But she hopes that when Hope grows older she’ll understand how much her mother and father loved her. And that placing her with a loving family was the best thing to do for her future.

“She needs to have a safe environment and a stable life and be able to grow and be nurtured and be safe and secure and all of these things I can’t give her right now,” Champ said.

Champ and the Holets marvel at the inexplicable course of events that brought them together in that convenience store parking lot back in September.

Ryan Holets calls it “providence” and still can’t believe that he met the parents of his future child on what was supposed to be an unmemorable call.

Champ calls it “serendipity” and describes the adoptive parents of her baby girl as a “light in this world.”

“There needs to be more people like Ryan and his wife and their family in this world,” she said.

The Holets know their new baby will likely face trials and troubles in the future. The threat of developmental issues is real. But they’re banking on love and nurturing to save Baby Hope’s life.

Rebecca Holets said as Hope grows older, and when the time is right, they will share the details of how she was adopted.

And they want her birth parents to have a place in their life. But the road to overcoming addiction is unpredictable.

“Whatever struggles she has, we’ll be there and we’ll work through it,” Ryan Holets. “And that makes me happy.”