ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A routine call about an Albuquerque convenience store theft turned into a life-transforming moment for an officer who came across upon a pregnant woman he found using heroin.
That officer later volunteered to adopt the unborn baby.
Officer Ryan Holets and his wife, Rebecca, were honored Monday for adopting the baby girl they named Hope after the addicted mom agreed to let the couple raise her child. The baby is now 6-weeks-old and is recovering after being born with an opioid addiction.
"We're blessed," Holets said.
City officials called the officer's act selfless, said it gave the infant a chance at a new life and attracted international attention in an era of a rampaging opioid epidemic.
In New Mexico, where an estimated 5 percent of all babies are born addicted to opioids, the story also is drawing attention to an epidemic that continues to overwhelm hospitals, law enforcement and social workers.
"He's a hero," new Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said at a City Hall special ceremony.
The situation started to unfold in September when Holets and Officer Jonathan Kreamer found Crystal Champ, 35, and another man shooting heroin in a field near a convenience store. The officers approached the homeless couple and questioned them. Holets noticed the woman was around eight months pregnant.
"Are you pregnant? Why are you doing that stuff?" Holets was heard asking a barefoot Champ on his lapel camera footage. "You are going to kill your baby."
An emotional Champ told Holets the addiction was controlling her life and she would probably put her baby up for adoption.
"Do you know who's going to adopt your baby?" Holets asked.
According to police, Holets did not arrest Champ and the man, who was the baby's father. Instead, Holets helped pay for a place for them to stay.
Then, he offered to adopt the unborn child.
Holets and his wife already had four children: a 5-year-old daughter, 4-year-old twin boys and 10-month-old girl. But the couple had discussed adopting. He just hadn't discussed adopting Champ's baby when he made the offer.
"My wife was in shock," Holets said, although she eagerly agreed to take on the challenge.
Champ agreed to the couple's offer after the pair took her to dinner and they discussed the child's future.
The adoption by the officer was welcomed news for the troubled Albuquerque Police Department that is undergoing federally ordered reforms amid 40 police shootings since 2010. Keller rode into the mayor's seat this month on the promise to revamp the police department and "restore public trust."
The couple paid for Champ's counseling and attorney's fees for the adoption. When Champ's gave birth, Holets was there to greet the girl.
Doctors then treated her with methadone to try to wean her from her addiction.
Meanwhile, Holets and his wife had to go through an intense round of interviews, home visits, background checks and paper work to adopt Hope. The adoption is slated to be finalized by the end of the year.
During Monday's City Hall ceremony, a quiet Hope sat in a baby carrier, occasionally looking up at the building's fluorescent lights.
Albuquerque Police Sgt. Jim Edison said "he couldn't be more proud" of Holets.
Holets brushes off suggestions that he's a hero. His wife, Rebecca, is the one who deserved praise for agreeing to join him on this journey with Hope, he said.
And what will he tell Hope about her past when she's older?
"Everything," Holets said as he held Hope. "We will be honest with her." Then, he kissed her.
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras