By Janet Tappin Coelho
Distressing video shows the moment rescuers carry a seven months old baby girl to safety after she was hurled 36 metres (118ft) from a bridge into a swampy river by her mother and nearly choked to death in the mud.
Thayller Barros was discovered buried up to her neck in sludge by two off-duty military police officers and a civilian, who acted quickly to pull the child out before she sunk into the silt and died from suffocation.
The infant miraculously survived the fall when her mother, Carla Regina Mendes, 23, threw her over railings on José Sarney Bridge, in Sao Luis, north east Brazil, on Sunday (18 March) afternoon.
The child suffered a blow to her head and bruising to her back after landing in a stagnant stretch on the Sao Francisco river which is covered in silt.
According to detectives the mother, who was arrested at the scene, claimed to be suffering from mental health problems and depression.
She has been sent for psychiatric tests and could face charges of attempted murder depending on the outcome of the evaluations.
Officers Danilo Pestana and Herberth Ribeiro were returning together from football training around 2pm on a motorbike when they noticed a commotion involving a woman on the bridge.
Witnesses shouted that the young mum had just thrown her child over the edge and into the river below.
The officers immediately plunged into the mud, which reached up their waist, to rescue the little girl who had lost most of her clothes and was only wearing in a nappy (diaper).
Officer Pestana told local media: “It was difficult to locate the baby, we could only see her head sticking out of the sludge. We could see she was being suffocated and that mud was in her mouth.
“The mud hampered our movements. It slowed us down and it was hard to get through. But as we got closer to the child, she saw us and started to cry and tried to get herself out.
“Her desperate cries were heartbreaking and we pushed hard to reach her before she sunk beneath the mud. When we got to her and pulled her out she cried loudly in our arms and that was the best sound we could hear as it made us so happy that she was alive.
“Thank God, we managed to get there in time because she would have certainly choked to death,” a relieved Officer Pestana said.
Footage shows the men trudging through the sludge cradling the baby after the successful rescue.
The child was handed over to a uniformed officer who carried her along the riverbank and up the steps to a waiting ambulance as anxious eyewitnesses looked on.
A paramedic quickly checked over the bewildered toddler and cleared her airways before transporting her to hospital.
Marcelo Sousa, an electronic technician, who witnessed the incident said to G1: “I saw a woman walking on the bridge with a baby and I said to myself this doesn’t look good – a mother out with her baby on a Sunday in this hot weather without any protection covering her.
“Just as I said this, the woman suddenly flung the baby over the bridge.”
Security guard, Elvos Pinheiro, who was nearby said: “It was shocking to see. I just couldn’t believe this had happened. We rushed to the spot and looked over the bridge and saw the child in the mud below. She was struggling and trying to get out.”
The rescued infant was taken to Djalma Marques Hospital where she underwent a battery of tests and is recovering from her injuries.
Hospital director, Rafael Coringa, said to TV Mirante: “The baby’s fall onto a section of mud helped to dampen and limit her injuries.
“She suffered minor bruising to her back and her head. A series of tests confirmed there are no serious fractures and she is in a stable condition.”
According to the young mum’s family, the woman was hospitalised three times in Sao Francisco mental health unit in 2017 for psychiatric disorders. During her stay, relatives allege the woman was raped and the child is the product of the sexual abuse.
Her step father, identified as Paulo, who has two children with Ms Mendes’ mother, reportedly told police he withdrew his stepdaughter from the hospital after discovering she was six months pregnant.
The family made a formal complaint against the clinic alleging neglect and omission of care and relatives have been waiting for the case to be investigated.
Detective Ronilson Moura said: “We have sent the mother for psychiatric tests to assess her mental health problems. If it’s proved she suffers from mental illness, we will ask for her to be detained in a clinic for treatment and charges may be brought depending on the level of her health problems.”
He added an inquiry has been stepped up into the claims of an sexual assault at the mental health hospital where the suspect was interned last year.
In an update on the baby’s health, the hospital confirmed Thayller has been transferred to a paediatric ward where is she being kept under observation.
“The baby will remain in the unit while new exams monitor her state of health. She will only be discharged after a full investigation by child protection services and a judge decides who the child should be given to,” explained Mr Coringa.
“In the meantime, (Thayller) is getting a lot of care and attention from the nurses which includes cuddling, kisses and playtime. Because of the unusual circumstances in which she came to us it is important to rebuild her wellbeing and restore her confidence after this trauma.”
Ms Mendes’ grandmother has already indicated she wishes to take over the care of her granddaughter.