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A police officer once rescued an abandoned infant. Two decades later, fate brought them together

“I’m sitting here 23 years later and the phone rings. He goes, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but Baby Jesus is sitting next to me right now’.”
Retired police lieutenant Gene Eyster and police lieutenant Gene Eyster were reunited on after 23 years in March.
Retired police lieutenant Gene Eyster and police lieutenant Gene Eyster were reunited on after 23 years in March.Ashley O’Chap/South Bend Police Department
/ Source: TODAY

In December 2000, three days before Christmas, police lieutenant Gene Eyster received a late night phone call about a baby found abandoned in a cardboard box.

The newborn had been discovered by college students in a South Bend, Indiana, apartment building hallway.

“He was wrapped in blankets and a flannel shirt,” Eyster, 70, tells TODAY.com. There was no note.

On his way to the hospital, Eyster says he picked up a teddy bear to bring the baby a “little bit of comfort.”

“I just wanted him to know he was cared about,” Eyster says.

Matthew Hegedus-Stewart was two days old when he was found abandoned in a cardboard box.
Matthew Hegedus-Stewart was two days old when he was found abandoned in a cardboard box.Ashley O’Chap / South Bend Police Department

During the investigation, Eyster began referring to the infant as “Baby Jesus.” He says the name Baby Boy Doe didn’t sit right with him.

“He was born a couple of days before Christmas and placed in a box — and in my mind that box was a manger,” Eyster says. “So he became Baby Jesus.”

After Eyster learned that Baby Jesus had been placed with “some great adoptive parents,” he breathed a sigh of relief. Life went on and new cases came in, but Eyster says he never stopped thinking about the baby. 

“I wondered ‘What did he turn out to be?’ And God forbid, have I ever arrested him? Was he still alive?’ Eyster says. 

Eyster, who retired in 2019, recently got answers. 

“I’m sitting here 23 years later and the phone rings,” Eyster says. It was Officer Josh Morgan and he was with a young man named Matthew Hegedus-Stewart.

Officer Hegedus-Stewart (with Lt. Eyster) says he became a police officer because he "wants to help people."
Officer Hegedus-Stewart (with Lt. Eyster) says he became a police officer because he "wants to help people."Ashley O’Chap / South Bend Police Department

“He goes, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but Baby Jesus is sitting next to me right now. He’s my rookie,” Eyster says.

Morgan and Hegedus-Stewart put the pieces together when they responded to a domestic situation at the Park Jefferson Apartments — the same building where Hegedus-Stewart was abandoned. 

“I was like, ‘I was abandoned as a baby here,’” Hegedus-Stewart, a police officer, tells TODAY.com. “Then Morgan looked up the report and saw Gene Eyster’s name attached to it.”

On March 22, Eyster and Hegedus-Stewart, 23, were reunited. The meeting was especially poignant for Eyster, who lost his only child, his son, Nicholas, in Jan.

“I see some mannerisms in Matt that remind me of my son — he’s got the same grin, the same laugh, the same dark hair and stature,” Eyster says. 

Matt Hegedus-Stewart and his s fiancée, Jillian, with their 14-month-old daughter, Aspen.
Matt Hegedus-Stewart and his s fiancée, Jillian, with their 14-month-old daughter, Aspen.Ashley O’Chap / South Bend Police Department

Hegedus-Stewart and his fiancée, Jillian, are parents of 14-month-old daughter, Aspen, and will welcome a boy in June. Aspen was born on the same day that her Dad was legally adopted.

“There are so many coincidences,” Eyster says. “I mean, Matt completes his field training and randomly gets assigned to the same beat of the apartment complex where he was found. What are the odds?”

Eyster’s voice is rich with emotion when he talks about how proud he is of Hegedus-Stewart.

“I’ve spoken to several of Matt’s supervisors and they have all said the same thing: He’s a kind officer, he’s a good kid,” Eyster says. “His parents have done a wonderful job raising him.”

“Growing up I was angry. You know, ‘Why me?’ But now I understand she was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do,” Hegedus-Stewart says of his birth mom. He notes that he is very close with his adoptive parents. 

“I definitely lucked out,” he says.

“The irony of everything falling into place the way it did,” Eyster says. “You have a better chance of winning the lottery.”