Drugs, a helpless baby, a hero cop. It was the story meant to tug at the heartstrings, to be the happily-ever-after that would unify Americans in the face of one their “biggest challenges”. But the way President Donald Trump told it during his first State of the Union address has instead divided them.
In the Republican’s telling, the story was about 27-year-old Ryan Holets, a married, god-fearing officer of New Mexico’s Albuquerque Police Department.
“Last year, Ryan was on duty when he saw a pregnant, homeless woman preparing to inject heroin,” the President told Congress during Tuesday’s speech. “When Ryan told her she was going to harm her unborn child, she began to weep. She told him she did not know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby.”
Holet, Trump said, then received a message from above – “You will do it because you can” – and so the officer and his wife made the decision to adopt the child. Her name? ‘Hope’.
LISTEN: Everyone is celebrating the adoption of baby Hope, but what happened to her heroin-addicted mother? Mia Freedman and Amelia Lester discuss. Post continues after.
Some were satisfied with the tale, of course. It showed, in Trump’s own words, how “difficult challenges bring out the best in Americans”, and was hailed by others on social media as “inspiring” and “incredible”.
But the rest were left asking one question: what happened to baby Hope’s birth mother? After all, if this was a story about a commitment to “fighting the drug epidemic, to “helping get treatment for those in need”, should it not have been about her?
Instead, in Trump’s telling, she was just “a pregnant, homeless woman”. A nameless footnote in an otherwise-uplifting anecdote. A villain. A vessel. Not worthy of mention or attention beyond the delivery of a child.
She has a name, this “pregnant, homeless woman”. It’s Crystal Champ.
CNN told the 35-year-old’s story. How she had been addicted since she was a teenager, and was living with her partner in a tent alongside the Albuquerque interstate when Holets came across her on September 23. Bodycam footage of their interaction captured the officer admonishing Champ for her drug use – “You’re going to kill your baby”.
They were words, she told CNN, that cut her deeply.
“I was like how dare you judge me. You have no idea how hard this is,” Champ said. “I know what a horrible person I am and what a horrible situation I’m in.”
Listen to Mia Freedman and Amelia Lester discuss the best in Trump this week, from State of the Union to his increasingly obvious vendetta against the FBI. Post continues
After the footage went viral and before Trump turned it into tenuous fodder for his war on drugs, the Holets not only adopted her child, but established a GoFundMe to support Champ in treatment for her dependence. After initial reluctance, she entered a rehabilitation centre in Florida, and according to Ryan Holets has been sober for more than 40 days.
The couple told CNN they want Champ and Hope’s father, Tom Key, to be part of their daughter’s life: “Whatever struggles she has, we’ll be there and we’ll work through it,” said Ryan. “And that makes me happy.”
It’s not the whole story, of course – that’s Champ’s to know and to tell. But at least it’s hers.