20 years later, the couple cannot imagine their lives without their son and credits him for changing their world view.
Danny Stewart was rushing to meet his partner, Pete Mercurio, for dinner when something unusual on the floor of a New York subway station caught his eye. Just as he was hurrying out of the station around eight o'clock on August 28, 2000, he noticed something that looked like a baby doll tucked up against the wall. Stewart wondered why a child would leave a doll on the ground as he continued up the stairs to the exit. "I glanced back one more time, and that's when I noticed his legs moved," he told BBC. The 34-year-old quickly ran back down the stairs and realized that what he thought to be a doll was in fact a baby boy, wrapped in a dark sweatshirt, with his tiny legs sticking out.
"He didn't have any clothes on, he was just wrapped up in this sweatshirt. His umbilical cord was still partially intact, so I could tell he was a newborn. I was thinking maybe a day or so old," Stewart recalled. He revealed that although the infant was very quiet, he was also alert with big, wide eyes. "He did look up and I stroked his head and then he whimpered a little bit. It seemed really unreal, the whole situation, and at that point, I was trying to alert people to what was happening, but I couldn't get anybody's attention."
Since it was a time before everyone carried a mobile phone and he didn't want to pick up or move the baby by himself in case the boy was hurt, Stewart ran up the stairs to the street to a payphone and called 911. He informed the police of his whereabouts and ran back to check the baby was still OK while he waited for the cops to arrive. "I'm sure it was just a few minutes, but time was standing still as my heart was racing," he said. Mercurio — who said the hair on the back of his neck stood up when Stewart called him with the news — arrived just as the police were carrying the baby away to be taken for a check-up at the hospital.
"I remember turning to Danny and saying to him on the sidewalk as the police car was driving away, 'You know, you're going to be connected to that baby in some way for the rest of your life,'" said Mercurio. "Danny was like, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Well, eventually, this child is going to learn of the night he was found and he may want to find the person who discovered him. Maybe there's a way that we can find out where he ends up and send a birthday gift every year on this date?'"
Not long after the couple returned to their daily lives — Stewart to his role as a social worker and Mercurio as a playwright and web designer — Stewart received an invitation from the Administration for Children's Services to attend a family court hearing, to testify how he had found the baby. At the December 2000 hearing, the judge asked him if he could stay for the entire hearing. "And then the next thing out of her mouth was, 'Would you be interested in adopting this baby?'" Stewart recalled. "I think most of the mouths dropped in the courtroom, including mine. I said, 'Yes, but I don't think it's that easy,' and the judge smiled and she said, 'Well, it can be.'"
"I had not had thoughts of adopting," he added, "but at the same time, I could not stop thinking that... I did feel connected, I felt like this was not even an opportunity, it was a gift, and how can you say no to this gift." Mercurio, on the other hand, took a bit longer to warm up to the idea. Although a part of him desperately wanted it to happen, he was worried about the practical aspects of raising a child. It all changed when Stewart convinced him to come with him and visit the baby at his foster home. When they arrived, it quickly became evident that it wasn't an ideal home for the baby boy.
Mercurio remembers an "instant wave of warmth" coming over him the first time he held the child in his arms. "The baby squeezed my finger with his entire hand so hard," he said. "He was just staring up at me and I was just looking at him, and it was almost like he found a pressure point in my finger that just opened up my heart to my head and showed me in that moment that I could be one of his parents, one of his dads." Stewart and Mercurio officially adopted the baby — whom they named Kevin — on December 17, 2002. A few years later, when Kevin was 10, the couple legally tied the knot after New York became the sixth state in the US to legalize gay marriage.
The ceremony was officiated by Judge Cooper — the same judge who was instrumental in their adopting Kevin — who told them at their first meeting that she had been involved in a short-lived pilot project placing babies who had been abandoned into pre-adoptive foster care. "She also said that all babies needed a connection to somebody. And so when Danny was testifying in the courtroom about finding the baby, in her mind his most serious connection in the world was to Danny, so why not just ask him?" said Mercurio. "It was almost as simple as that. She saw a connection that was already made, and had a hunch that it would be the right connection."
Kevin is now a 20-year-old college student who loves playing ultimate frisbee, has run numerous marathons, and danced with the National Dance Institute from the age of nine to 14. "Kevin's always been a respectful kid," Mercurio — who has written a children's book about their family's story called Our Subway Baby — gushed about his son. "He's empathic and kind. He keeps his emotions close to the vest. He's an observer, doesn't crave or seek attention. He's a private person, but also a quiet leader." Stewart — now aged 55 — added: "I can't imagine my life if it didn't turn out this way. My life has become much more enriched and full. It has changed my world view, my perspective, my whole lens."