A Man Found an Abandoned Baby In The N.Y.C. Subway — and That Baby Became His Son

After Danny Stewart discovered the baby, just hours old, in a Manhattan subway station, he and his partner, Peter Mercurio, were given the chance to adopt him. 'We became a family," says Stewart

Subway baby
Picking Kevin up to take home. Photo: Courtesy The Stewart-Mercurio Family

Around 8:00 p.m on August 28, 2000, Danny Stewart, a social worker, was on a New York City subway train heading south to meet his boyfriend, Pete Mercurio, a writer and graphic designer, for dinner. The couple had been dating for three years and were living together in Pete's apartment. That night would change their lives forever.

Danny: I got off at the 14th Street exit and noticed a bundle on the ground against a wall. All I could see was two little legs sticking out of this dark sweatshirt. I'm thinking, "Some little girl left a doll." I started to go up the stairs but glanced back. That's when the legs moved.

I rushed down and loosened the sweatshirt. I'm realizing, "A baby's been left here." I wanted to make sure he was breathing okay and that he seemed to be in good condition. His umbilical cord was still partially intact, so I thought he was a newborn. I thought he might have been injured, so I didn't pick him up for fear of causing futher injury.

I tried to alert other travelers who were going through the station. But it was about 8:00 at night and there weren't a lot of people going through. I couldn't get anybody's attention.

This was before we had cell phones, but I knew there was a payphone on the street. I ran up the stairs and called 911: "I've found a baby!"

I go back downstairs to wait with the baby. Time was standing still. I was thinking it was taking a long time for the police to come. I didn't think they believed me. I had a quarter in my pocket, and ran back up to the stairs to that payphone and called Pete.

Subway baby
Pete, Kevin and Danny, 2001. Courtesy The Stewart-Mercurio Family

Pete: I picked up the phone and he said "I found a baby." Danny doesn't joke around, the tone of his voice was just so alarming. He asked me to call 911 again and told me where he was, which is one block from my apartment. I said, "I'm just going to come down there. It'd be faster for me to get help once I'm there."

By the time I get there, the police had arrived. Danny's standing at the top of the steps. I said, "What's going on? Where's the baby?"

And he just gestures with his head down the subway steps. At that moment, two police officers are walking up and one is holding the baby in his arms. And at that minute, it was just very real, very chilling.

We got to watch this miracle in this police officer's arms yawn and wiggle a little bit. The ambulance was taking forever to arrive, so the police decided to transport the baby in the back of their car. We said goodbye, watched them put the baby in the car and they drove away.

I turned to Danny and I said, "You know, you're going to be connected to that baby for the rest of your life.I don't know how, but someday he's going to learn about this night and he may want to meet the person who found him."

Subway baby
Danny holding Kevin for first time. Courtesy The Stewart-Mercurio Family

The next day, Danny went to the hospital and tried to find out what happened with the baby, who had been born on the day Danny found him.

Danny: They said "Only families are allowed." I wasn't given any more information.

We went on with our lives, because we're thinking, "Well, that's the end of the story." He was going to be going into foster care or a family member had come forward and that was it.

About six weeks later I get a call from the attorney with the Administration for Children's Services, the child welfare agency in New York City, to come and testify. She said she had been searching for me and wanted me to testify at a hearing to terminate the biological parental rights for the baby.

The was in the beginning of December. I described the events, and as I'm getting ready to leave the judge (who has asked that her name not be revealed) asked me if I wouldn't mind staying.

After the police gave their testimony the judge said, "Mr. Stewart, when we have a situation where a baby has been abandoned, we want to place that baby in pre-adoptive foster care as quickly as possible."

In my head I'm thinking, "Well, that makes a lot of sense." The next thing out of her mouth is, "Would you be interested in adopting this baby?" All eyes are on me. I mean, this is totally unexpected by everyone, mostly me.

I pause for a second and say, "Yes, but I don't think it's that easy." And she said, "It can be. If you're interested in adopting, then you'll need to show up at the next court hearing to state your intentions." I said okay.

November is National Adoption Month, and PEOPLE is celebrating by highlighting the many extraordinary ways families can grow via adoption, featuring real stories from celebrities, everyday parents and adoptees, as well as information on the varied ways to adopt. For more heartwarming, heartbreaking and happy-ending stories, visit our Adoption page.

Subway baby
Peter, Kevin and Danny at school, 2007. Courtesy The Stewart-Mercurio Family

Pete: He called me and said "You're never going to believe this." And I said, "Absolutely not. Go back into the courtroom right now and tell her no, you misspoke."

But he doesn't do that. We don't really get a chance to talk about it until that night. I said, "What were you thinking? How could you say yes? How are we going to make this work? We don't have any money. We don't have the space. There's no way we can raise a child in this city. We have nothing."

And he just kept saying over and over again, "This is a gift. We can't refuse this. We'll never get this opportunity again."

A few days later, Danny said that he understood if I didn't want to do it with him, but he was going to go through with it no matter what. He'd set up a visit to go see the baby in a foster home, and really wanted me to go with him. He said, "It's going to take six to nine months. They can't place him with us right away. We could get ready."

I agreed to go with him to visit the baby. I was already leaning towards doing it with him anyway. I'd softened up and realized that this was something that we weren't ever going to get another opportunity to become parents. This was it.

We both had never thought we would be parents, ever, only because we were two men with no money and no space. Our lives weren't geared towards child rearing at all. It was not at the forefront of our thoughts, until it was. We thought this was the universe giving us a gift, it was now or never.

The visit sealed the deal. Danny held him first. Danny looked at him and said, "Hey, do you remember me?" It was the cutest thing. After they bonded a little, Danny put out his arms with the baby. I took him and he instantly grabbed my finger.

I melted. I realized that we were smart, capable men, and we can definitely make this work. I felt overjoyed that we were going to be starting this family together. I just turned to Danny and I said, "This is our son."

Subway baby
Danny, Kevin and Pete after their wedding ceremony, 2012. Courtesy The Stewart-Mercurio Family

A week later, on December 20, I went with Danny to the court hearing. The judge said, 'Well, I hope you guys are here for the reason I think you're here.' And we said, "Yes, we intend to adopt this baby." And she smiled and asked, "How would you like him for a holiday visit?" And in that moment, I think we both panicked, but nodded. We were getting the baby two days later.

That night when we got back to the apartment, I said I really like the name Kevin, it has a special meaning to me. My parents had had a baby before me that died at birth, stillborn, who they named Kevin. Since I was the next child they had, I always felt that I was being protected by this Kevin, like a guardian angel.

We told my parents and my mom broke down in tears of joy. How could they have ever in their wildest imaginations predicted that their gay son would have a child and he would name him Kevin, after a baby they lost?

With only two days to prepare for the baby's arrival, Pete's mother, father and sister, who live nearby in New Jersey, bought every possible supply for a five-month-old. Within 48 hours they transformed the tiny 400 square foot apartment into a nursery. Meanwhile, Danny and Pete consumed baby books before picking Kevin up at 9:00 a.m. on Dec. 22 from a foster care agency and brought him home.

Pete: The baby was napping, laying on my chest. And then Danny sat on the floor next to us and we just looked at each other in disbelief and with these warm smiles on our faces, like, 'Can you believe what this is?' We didn't say a word. And then, of course, then the baby woke up. He needed to be fed and the diaper changed. And so, all of that starts.

The "holiday visit" never ended, but it took two years before Kevin's adoption was finalized in Manhattan Family Court on December 17, 2002.

Peter: That day, I asked, "Your honor, we are wondering why you asked Danny if he was interested in adopting." And she looked down at us and she said, "I had a hunch. Was I wrong?"

Kevin was such an easy kid to raise. I don't know how else to say it. We got so lucky. He slept all night. He's always been a very self-sufficient, self-motivated kid who's really conscientious. He just came to us that way.

Subway baby
Danny, Pete and Kevin, 2018. Courtesy The Stewart-Mercurio Family

In 2011, after New York State granted same-sex couples the right to marry, we were on a walk to school. I said to Kevin, "Your dad and I are thinking about getting married. What do you think?" He's 11 at this time. And he goes, "Don't judges marry people?"

In that second I quickly realized why he asked. I said, "You want to meet the judge who finalized your adoption?" He nodded.

I sent an email to Manhattan Family Court, saying who we were, who the judge was, and could she marry us? That afternoon, I heard from the judge's clerk: she would be delighted. But first she wanted to meet with Danny and me without Kevin.

In June of 2012, we met with her and that's when we learned about a pilot program for abandoned newborns. When Kevin was found, she had the authority to cut through all the red tape and place this baby where she felt the baby needed to be, instantly. Unfortunately, the program had lasted only about six months.

The couple married on July 13, 2012 in the judge's office at Manhattan Family Court.

Pete: When Kevin met her, they hugged. Kevin wasn't usually star-struck or timid. But he didn't know what to say at that moment.

Danny: I told her that it's only because of her that we're a family. I'm incredibly grateful to her that we became a family, and her performing our wedding was just a beautiful moment that came full circle.

Subway baby
Family at Yosemite, 2019. Courtesy The Stewart-Mercurio Family

Kevin is now 21 and a college senior at a top-ranked college, double majoring in computer science and math. He competes in ultimate frisbee, and is an avid runner.

Pete: When Kevin was really young, we'd go to playgrounds or go to a park and, if possible, bike. We love being outdoors. When he got a little older, we started going to national parks. All three of us love to hike. And just spending time together in nature.

Last year, Pete wrote a children's book about their family's story, Our Subway Baby.

"Sometimes life hinges on little moments, happy accidents, and miraculous surprises. Sometimes babies are born into forever families. Sometimes they are adopted," he writes. "And sometimes, all it takes to find your family is a chance glance at tiny toes wiggling in the corner of a subway station."

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