MISSOULA — It's been more than two years since a Missoula County Sheriff’s deputy saved the life of a five-month-old baby who'd been abandoned in the woods along Highway 12 near Lolo Hot Springs.
The latest award was given to Deputy Ross Jessop on Wednesday for what he did that night -- a night that didn't just save an innocent life, but a night that reminded him that what he does for a living -- makes a difference.
Deputy Jessop received the Deputy Sheriff of the Year award from the National Sheriff's Association during a small awards ceremony. It's the third major award he's earned for a case that's become familiar to many – and a story that's still is hard to hear.
It’s the story of the miracle baby buried under debris somewhere in the Lolo National Forest. It’s a miracle because he was found, alive in the dark after nine hours alone.
"It's why I went to work that night, There's no doubt about that,” Deputy Jessop said.
Law enforcement was alerted to a baby possibly buried in the Lolo National Forest on July 7, 2018. Deputy Jessop interviewed the suspect in the case and then set out to where the baby might be. It was a father's intuition and law enforcement training -- but maybe something more.
“A miracle. It really was. I've been hunting my entire life and even when you're looking for something when you know where it's at it's hard enough, let alone in the dark when you have no clue,” Deputy Jessop recalled. “Something led me and it was more than just intuition or a hunch that night. I'm certainly glad I keyed in on that [to] actually go with my gut."
It was a moment when his headlamp illuminated a tiny arm under some sticks that Deputy Jessop first described to MTN News two years ago.
"He peered into my eyes and I peered into his eyes and I gave him a kiss on the forehead and I just looked at him and couldn't thank the Lord Jesus enough. I was just so happy,” Deputy Jessop said in 2018.
He says this award is a win for all of law enforcement. It’s also a case he thinks about all the time and is one that reassured him that what he does is making a difference.
"For me personally, it happened to me because I needed it. I needed that boost in my career. I was at that state in my career where I was feeling like I don't make a difference,” Deputy Jessop said. “This happened to me at the right time. But without a team effort, it would not have happened.”
The man who was convicted in the case was Francis Crowley. Prosecutors say he was high on drugs at the time he left the baby face down in a pile of sticks. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The little boy, meantime, is healthy.