Birmingham, AL Officer Photo Goes Viral
Upon arriving at a Birmingham apartment late in the night in early September, Officer Michelle Burton was met with four young children.
Their father had died of an apparent drug overdose while their mother was unresponsive. She was rushed to the hospital after paramedics administered a fast-acting opioid antidote.
The neighbors who had heard the eldest child, a 7-year-old girl, crying for help and called 911, were on the scene comforting the children.
Burton told The Washington Post, “It was horrible. It was a very sad situation.”
She called her husband to let him know she’d be home late from work that night.
An officer-in-training kept the two toddler boys busy by lending them his flashlight. Soon enough, they were playing and shining it into people’s faces.
Burton said the 7-year-old was quieter. She asked the girl if she needed anything. The girl asked if someone could sign her homework, so that she could turn it in the next day.
“That broke my heart,” recalled Burton. “She said, ‘I did my work.’ She pulled it out and showed it to us. It was math homework, (like) ‘Which number is greater? Which number is odd or even?’. I told her, ‘Sweetie, you probably won’t have to go to school tomorrow. …But where you’re going is going to have everything you need.’”
While inside the apartment, Burton found a can of infant formula and a bottle. She instinctively grabbed both.
When they arrived at the precinct, officers bought the kids what they wanted from the vending machine. Burton removed her police gear so she could comfortably hold the month-old-infant girl to give her a bottle. Burton thought that it had to have been hours since she had last been fed.
Soon the baby was fast asleep on Burton’s shoulder. Someone in the precinct took the photo that would later go viral.
Lt. Sean Edwards wasn’t surprised by Burton’s actions. He told The Post, “A lot of us are parents. We just go into parent mode and not necessarily police mode. Officer Burton, she just really wanted to grab the baby and just cuddle the baby. It’s part of our job, it’s a part of what we see, what we do. Our concern is to preserve, to protect. We find ourselves in a lot of situations like this.”
Edwards went on to explain that the department has over 800 sworn officers who are prepared for dozens of different scenarios.
Even still, Officer Burton is often tapped to go to incidents where kids might be vulnerable. She has a knack for comforting children. “They’re like, ‘Let’s call Burton because this is what she does.’ It happens a lot. But it’s not just me. I actually have pictures of officers, male officers, making baby bottles. … We do what we have to do when we have to do it,” said Burton.
Burton says that the rest of the night was a blur. What stands out to her is the number of people who offered assistance to make sure the four children were safe. A social worker stayed with them at the precinct until 3 a.m., when they were placed in the care of Child Protective Services.
Burton went home and showed her husband, Brain Burton, who is also in law enforcement, the photo of her with the infant. She then fell asleep.
While sleeping, her husband posted the photo on Facebook. His caption read, “Last night, my wife Michelle Burton told me she would be late getting off work because on the call she was on, the parents of 4 small children had both overdosed. She spent the rest of the night taking care of these babies. She got home at 4 this morning. I’ve never seen her more beautiful than in this picture. What an incredible woman.”
When she woke up, Officer Burton had hundreds of notifications on her phone. The photo had been shared over 1,000 times.
Burton was not surprised by her husband’s post. She says he’s always been her biggest supporter. “He’s very proud of who I am and what I do. What surprised me is just how much positive that seems to have come out of it.”
The following few days, Burton was stopped everywhere she went. At a bank, a woman walked up her and simply gave her a hug. Many people wanted to know what happened to the children.
“Birmingham may have the largest population in Alabama, but at its heart, it’s a small town,” said Burton. “I’m overwhelmed about the whole thing. I don’t want people to think that it’s only me that does this. We all do things like this. … It was one of those nights where everybody worked together and everybody did what they needed to do.”
UPDATE (verbatim via Amy B Wang)
The Alabama Department of Human Resources does not give out identifying information on children placed in state custody and thus could not provide updates on the four children Birmingham police said were placed in the care of Child Protective Services last week.
However, DHS spokesperson Barry Spear told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the first priority in all cases is to keep children within their own family – grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on.
Photo Credit: Brian Burton