(NEW YORK) -- The tragic death of a baby boy, clad only in a diaper and floating in the East River off New York City’s South Street Seaport last summer has been declared a homicide, the city’s medical examiner announced on Friday.
The boy's father, James Currie, 38, went to Thailand immediately after his son’s death but ultimately returned to New York to face charges.
In the wake of the devastating death, Currie pleaded guilty to a charge of improperly disposing of a corpse. But the medical examiner’s findings could change that.
Currie remains incarcerated pending a May 16 court appearing -- at which he could face new charges in light of the medical examiner's findings.
“While the exact cause of death cannot be determined,” the city’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson concluded in a statement, “various factors indicate beyond reasonable doubt that recent homicidal violence occurred.”
Monty Campbell, a South Street Seaport tourist and Oklahoma firefighter spotted baby Mason Saldana’s body floating in the teeming river that runs the length of Manhattan’s eastern shores. The firefighter jumped into the river to save the child, but it was too late, and Saldana was declared dead at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Campbell appeared distraught to learn the cause of death after all this time.
"I’m just incredibly sorry," he said, pausing, "for the family, and just thankful we did what little part we could to recover the body,” Campbell told ABC News. “But it’s just a sad, said situation.”
That day Campbell, a chiropractor, was suffering from food poisoning after patronizing one of the city’s famous food carts. The couple had just come off the ferry from Liberty Island and were walking towards South Street Seaport, Campbell said.
“I had to stop at like every bench to rest, so it was slow going,” Campbell said. During one break, his wife spotted something in the East River.
“We assumed it was a doll, and then used our cell phones to zoom in on it and at that point we realized it was a baby."
The couple called 911, but Campbell said that after a couple of minutes he could no longer bear to wait.
“I couldn’t take just sitting there, watching it float,” Campbell said. “So I handed the phone to my son and went out and retrieved Mason. We did a little CRP, but he had no pulse.”
Campbell said that at no time during the ordeal did he have any interactions with Currie, the baby’s father and didn’t recall seeing the father and son together before the baby went into the water.
Efforts by ABC News to reach a representative to speak on Currie's behalf were not immediately successful. He is not listed as a client of the non-profit Legal Aid Society, and that organization could not provide any information about any lawyer in private practice that may currently be representing him. Calls to the child's mother and three of Currie's immediate family members were not immediately returned.
The spot where Mason Saldana was pulled from the water is a half-mile from where Currie was caught on surveillance video entering the subway without the infant, court records said. Currie had earlier been seen on video walking near the river with a child carrier, police said.
“The good news we will never see each other again,” one of the texts said. “I am not in the USA.”
When asked where he was, Currie allegedly responded, “outside the USA.”
When asked where the baby was, Currie allegedly replied, “You will never see Mason again.”
Currie was escorted back to the U.S. by federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations aboard a Korean Air flight that landed Thursday night at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. He was placed under arrest by the NYPD.
The charge of improperly disposing of a corpse is punishable by at least a year in prison and could be upgraded now that the medical examiner’s office determination has been released.
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