Natalie’s Village: 19 years after she was abandoned in a box, a Spokane teen tells her story

SPOKANE, Wash. — Nineteen years ago this week, a man leaving his North Spokane home found a container on his porch.

In that box was a baby girl.

She was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital, where they found she was suffering from hypothermia, but it was 59 degrees that morning.

Doctors also determined she was born with a high level of alcohol in her system.

Occupational therapist Margaret Miller was there and, like the rest of the staff, she was entranced with the girl they called “Baby Doe.” They even nicknamed her “Cookie Doe.”

At the time, Tom and Renee Siers had three of their own children and an adopted son. But, seeing the news reports, they felt drawn to little Cookie Doe.

“So tiny and so quiet, and she had these big brown eyes and she was looking everywhere, but she was just so quiet,” Renee said. “So, I called our social worker and said… we’re available if you need a home for her. She looks like she would fit into our family perfectly.”

She couldn’t stay Cookie Doe forever, so the Siers gave her a name, but Tom wanted to see her first.

“She was a Natalie,” Tom said with a smile on his face.

Not know anything about her family history, the Siers family adopted Natalie.

Two years after she was left on a porch, newborn twin boys were left in a driveway in that same North Spokane neighborhood, but only one survived.

The Siers had their suspicions and became foster parents to the surviving child, just sure he was Natalie’s brother. A DNA test confirmed it and led detectives to the children’s mother, who went to prison for abandoning her kids.

The baby boy eventually went to live with his biological father and Natalie stayed in the loving home. She always knew she was adopted, but did not always know about her start in life.

“A question came up from a family member and I talked to my mom and she thought I wasn’t ready to hear the story, but it was really her who wasn’t ready,” Natalie said.

Renee admits she was not ready and was not sure she ever would be; the fear of what the news might do to Natalie was just too much.

“We never wanted her to feel that she was abandoned. We never wanted her to have that feeling again,” Renee said.

But Natalie took it for what it was.

Life has not been easy for her; she has struggled with mental health and learning issues.

“I missed so many school days throughout high school because of mental illness days, doctor’s appointments and even being sick,” Natalie said.

“My takeaway is that it takes a village,” said Renee.

That village goes all the way back to Otis Orchards Elementary School, with the teachers, staff and administrators.

“She really want to learn, but she had things that got in the way,” said Principal Suzanne Savall.

That school, under the direction of Savall, had just implemented a trauma-focused approach to education.

“That’s what trauma-sensitive is, is building those relationships and having a person that will never give up on you no matter what you do,” Savall said.

Also part of Natalie’s village was the staff at East Valley Middle School, then East Valley High School.

“Everybody, her teachers, her counselors, everybody was there for her and so that truly, school was hard for her,” Renee said. “It was not an easy road and the mental illness, along the line that we’ve gone through, it hasn’t been easy.”

That village carried her through this June, when against all odds, the little girl once found abandoned in a box earned her high school diploma.

“It was a bit hard, the classes, but I worked really hard,” Natalie said.

Renee believes that village started forming with people like occupational therapist Margaret Miller, who 4 News Now’s Robyn Nance recently reintroduced to a grown up Cookie Doe.

“I remember the day you were born,” Miller told Natalie. ” I want to give you a hug, too!”

So, what is the next chapter in Natalie’s story?

“First, I want to get a job, that’s the number one thing,” she said.

A life that started one day, alone on a porch, but every day since has been surrounded by love.

“The village has been helping and we still need the village to help,” Renee said.

Natalie’s story has helped change abandonment laws. Her case was cited in the Safe Haven Law, that allows a parent to turn over newborns to protective care at hospitals or fire stations without criminal liability.