MISSOULA — Missoula County Sheriff's Deputy Ross Jessop was among the 19 people from law enforcement agencies across the country honored Tuesday in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Department of Justice for Distinguished Service in Policing.
Jessop, a Corvallis High School graduate and veteran with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office, went beyond the scope of his duties in July 2018 to find a 5-month-old baby alive in the vast Lolo National Forest, and he played a key role on the rescue team that included the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Montana Highway Patrol and the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.
After an hours-long search, Jessop found the child partially buried beneath twigs and debris, left there by Francis Crowley on a drug-fueled crime spree along Highway 12. He and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Nick Scholz found the baby around 2:30 a.m., an estimated nine hours after Crowley abandoned him.
"Congratulations to Deputy Jessop and to all of his fellow law enforcement officers who worked diligently throughout the day and night to find this child," the Missoula County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post Tuesday. "Sheriff (T.J.) McDermott would like to thank you for your efforts, especially while working with little information and for following your intuition and training in order to save this life."
Jessop was awarded Tuesday in the category of field operations serving a population between 50,000 and 250,000 in a ceremony broadcast live on the U.S. Department of Justice website.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr spoke during the Third Annual Attorney General's Award of Distinguished Service in Police about respect for law enforcement's boots on the ground. He recalled after the Vietnam War, how veterans were once welcomed home with jeers and friction. Today, Barr said, it's more common to see an airport terminal come to a halt to give a round of applause for troops returning home. Barr said he hoped law enforcement would see the same manner of respect from its communities on a daily basis.
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"They have to start showing more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves," Barr said. "And if communities don't give that support and respect, they may find themselves without the police protection they need."
Jessop was also honored with the Life Saving Award on Peace Officers Memorial Day in May.
He gave an emotional testimony in March as Crowley was being sentenced to prison for threatening people at Lolo Hot Springs with a gun before running off into the woods with the child. Law enforcement located Crowley later, but he gave several different accounts of what had happened to the boy. As law enforcement sprawled into the area in search of the baby, Jessop called in Scholz, who was at home for his wife's birthday but had the proper vehicle to get into the woods. After hours of following less direction than instinct, Jessop nearly stepped on the baby's head as they closed in.
"Everything that night should have killed that baby," Jessop said during the testimony.
Days after the rescue, Jessop and Scholz told reporters how the rescue went down. The term "miracle baby" has been tied to the rescue ever since.
"The only thing I can say about this whole thing is, it was a miracle," Jessop said.