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Kidnapped baby found in trunk

Gardner man charged with taking infant

Jason Bisceglia, 19, was charged with kidnapping 6-month-old Paul Baez Jr. from his mother's apartment early yesterday morning in Gardner. Police say the infant was found two hours later in the trunk of Bisceglia's car. Jason Bisceglia, 19, was charged with kidnapping 6-month-old Paul Baez Jr. from his mother's apartment early yesterday morning in Gardner. Police say the infant was found two hours later in the trunk of Bisceglia's car. (ELLEN HARASIMOWICZ FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Maria Cramer and Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / May 24, 2008

GARDNER - Asia Sterrett and her friends had been up late Thursday night watching the Celtics game and hanging out as her children slept nearby. Just before 2 a.m. she went to check on her youngest, 6-month-old Paul Baez Jr., and discovered that he was not in his crib.

"My heart dropped," Sterrett, a 20-year-old mother of three, said in an interview at her Hemlock Drive apartment yesterday. "My whole world felt like it was ending. I thought the worst. I really did."

For nine hours, bloodhounds and state and local police scoured the area for the baby, looking in cars and searching apartments in the sprawling complex where his mother lives. They finally found him at 10:30 a.m. about 2 miles away on Linwood Street, inside the trunk of a black Honda Civic, where he had been lying for two hours dressed only in a diaper, police said.

Sterrett's friend, 19-year-old Jason Bisceglia, who had been at her apartment when her son disappeared, confessed to snatching the baby, Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said yesterday.

"This was not a joke," he said. "We averted a real tragedy."

Yesterday, the Department of Social Services took custody of the baby and his 16-month-old sister, and Sterrett's third child, a 2-year-old boy, was placed with relatives, according to a spokeswoman for the agency.

DSS previously investigated Sterrett for alleged neglect involving one of her other children. That case was closed last year, according to Alison Goodwin, a spokeswoman for DSS, who gave no details.

Bisceglia was charged with kidnapping and reckless endangerment of a child and was ordered held on $50,000 cash bail. A slight teenager with close-cropped brown hair, Bisceglia stood in handcuffs in a white, jail-issued jumpsuit in Gardner District Court as a plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf.

"I want to see him do time in jail," Sterrett said, her voice quivering. "He made my baby suffer for two hours. No food, his diaper wasn't changed . . . he was in a hot trunk." She said her son had red marks up and down his body and bumps on his head when she saw him yesterday at Heywood Hospital, where he was listed in good condition.

It was still a mystery yesterday why Bisceglia allegedly snatched the child. His lawyer said he could not remember what happened.

"This behavior is out of character," said Bisceglia's attorney, Mark Goldstein. He said the teenager works at a local pellet plant and has had one prior criminal charge, for shoplifting.

The teenager's father, Joseph Bisceglia, and grandmother sat quietly during the arraignment, then as they left the father shouted, "He's a good kid."

Police said Sterrett was having a small party with Bisceglia and four other friends.

"There was a number of individuals partying at the apartment," said Chief Neil Erickson of the Gardner Police Department. "I believe there was some alcohol and some marijuana has been mentioned also."

In court, Assistant District Attorney Thomas E. Landry said Sterrett and Bisceglia had an argument that might have led to the alleged kidnapping.

But Sterrett insisted that she had not argued with Bisceglia and that they were not drinking or taking drugs. Sterrett said she met Bisceglia about two months ago and "never in a million years thought he would do something like this to my kids."

She said Bisceglia was affectionate with her children and told her that his mother had operated a day care center.

During the get-together, Bisceglia seemed distracted, "like he was in another world," Sterrett said. He left the door to her apartment wide open and said he had gone to get something from his car, she said. Minutes later, Sterrett discovered her son gone and feared a stranger had come into her apartment.

She said she did not suspect Bisceglia because he offered to call 911, appeared concerned, and helped search for her son.

When officers were trying to question Bisceglia, he told police he felt ill and was going to the hospital, Early said. When Bisceglia did not show up at the hospital, police went to his Linwood Street home.

Bisceglia panicked when he saw police arriving, moved the baby from the basement to the car trunk, and ran into the woods, Early said.

He later returned home, was taken into custody, and told police where to find the baby, Early said.

During a telephone interview, Bisceglia's aunt, Evelyn Jurgelewicz, expressed shock. She said her nephew graduated last year from Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fitchburg and has never been in trouble.

"He's always been a good kid," Jurgelewicz said. "I can't understand what happened."

Sterrett said she is devastated by the loss of her children and concerned that she is being portrayed as an unfit mother. She said the DSS complaint against her arose from a custody dispute and was unsubstantiated.

"I'm a good mother," Sterrett said. "I take good care of my kids. My kids mean the world to me. I'd do anything for them."

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com., Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com.

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