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Originally published Sunday, December 19, 2004 at 12:00 AM

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Bizarre death, kidnapping shake 2 heartland towns

Dressed in pink and nestled in a baby carrier, the infant was paraded around town Friday, just as any newborn might be. Kevin and Lisa Montgomery dropped by the Whistle Stop Cafe...

MELVERN, Kan. — Dressed in pink and nestled in a baby carrier, the infant was paraded around town Friday, just as any newborn might be.

Kevin and Lisa Montgomery dropped by the Whistle Stop Cafe on Main Street to give patrons a look, then there was a visit to the home of the Rev. Mike Wheatley, pastor of the First Church of God.

"I held her in my arms for 15 minutes," Wheatley recalled yesterday. "Lisa talked about the delivery, about how her water broke. Kevin had his proud-papa face on." He said the couple was calling the baby Abigail.

The joy the community of about 420 residents shared with the Montgomerys transformed to shock and bewilderment hours later after law-enforcement officers swooped down on the family's home near Melvern and arrested Lisa Montgomery.

She is charged with kidnapping that resulted in death, accused of choking a Skidmore, Mo., woman who was eight months pregnant and cutting the child from the victim's womb (news reports disagree on whether the victim was alive at the time). Montgomery's husband has not been charged.

The baby, named Victoria Jo by her father, Zeb Stinnett, was in good condition yesterday at a hospital in Topeka, about 30 miles north of Melvern.

The child's mother, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, was found Thursday in her home by her mother. After searching the Stinnetts' computer, authorities found e-mails that led them to the Montgomery residence.

Authorities have said Montgomery, 36, had found Stinnett through a Web site for dog breeders. Using an assumed name, authorities said, Montgomery contacted Stinnett under the pretense of wanting to buy a rat terrier.

Zeb Stinnett was united with his daughter late Friday. A hospital spokeswoman said he was "pretty quiet. He's surrounded by friends and family."

In a news release from the hospital, Zeb Stinnett called his daughter "a miracle" and said, "I want to thank family, friends, Amber Alert and law-enforcement officials for their support during this time."

In Melvern, many Whistle Stop Cafe customers were surprised to hear the infant was 1 day old, owner Kathy Sage said. She knew an Amber Alert had been issued for a baby missing from Missouri but did not realize the Montgomerys' infant was connected until hearing from a reporter Friday.

"You read about this stuff," she said. "It blows you away when it's here. This stuff is supposed to be in New York City or Los Angeles."

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The shock that Melvern residents felt reverberated through Skidmore in northwest Missouri. Christmas festivities had lost their sheen in the town of about 300 people.

Darla Roberts, who knew the baby's mother when she was a child, said she would want Victoria Jo to know this: "Your mother loved you very much. She was looking so forward to your birth. Although that pleasure was taken from her, she's with you every day, loving you still. Every day."

Across from the Stinnett home, a neighbor with two small children cried as she looked at the white clapboard house with its welcome sign, three-seat porch swing and what now is a revolving door to police and detectives.

"Bobbie bought some baby clothes from me in September, when I had a garage sale," said Tracy, who did not want her last name published.

Lisa Montgomery was being held yesterday in the Wyandotte County jail, said Brad Ratliff, a public-relations official for the Wyandotte County Sheriff's Department.

She probably will make her first court appearance tomorrow.

Montgomery is the mother of two high school-age children, but U.S. Attorney Todd Graves said she had been pregnant with another child that was never born. It was unclear when she lost the baby or under what circumstances, but the complaint said she had lied to her husband about giving birth.

According to court documents, Montgomery traveled to Topeka on Thursday to go shopping. She called her husband, saying she had given birth.

Kevin Montgomery and the couple's two children met Lisa and the newborn in Topeka and drove home, according to an affidavit.

How "could you not know that your wife's not pregnant?" said Gary Deskins, owner of a convenience store in Melvern. "There's something missing.

"I will never understand. ... Do I hate her? If it happened anywhere else in the country, I'd hate her. But she's from here. I just feel nothing."

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