Troy Sowers doesn’t have much experience on the ground – he only graduated from the FBI Academy about eight weeks ago. But, when he gets the call that a two-day-old infant named Stewart Rembert has been kidnapped, he sets out to solve his first major case. And by the end of that day back in 1997, he has the little one safe in his arms – a happy ending for both the new FBI agent and the distraught family. But who could have foretold back then that their paths would cross again more than 20 years later?
Fast-forward 22 years, and Sowers has spent his career climbing the ladder with the FBI. He became the field officer in charge of the bureau’s Knoxville office. Through it all, though, one case has always stayed with him – that baby boy he found by a dumpster one fateful day in 1997.
And yet, so far removed from the case that kick-started his career, Sowers had no idea with whom he’d cross paths in 2019. He wouldn’t initially recognize the little one that he had saved – after all, he had spent 22 years growing up and living his life. But Sowers and Rembert did find each other again for a poignant and emotional reunion.
Troy Sowers comes from a multi-faceted background, both educationally and professionally speaking. He earned bachelor’s degrees in theology and accounting and worked in an accounting firm as an auditor. But Sowers also signed up with the U.S. Air Force, serving for four years.
Sowers also studied at the Naval Postgraduate School, where he received a master’s degree in homeland security studies. This training pointed him toward what would become his lifelong career – he entered into the FBI Academy, from which he graduated in August, 1997. Sowers’ first post would be at the Seattle Field Office.
More specifically, Sowers ended up as a field agent in the Tacoma Resident Agency with a focus on, among other things, white-collar crime, violent crime and terrorism. This beat brought him one of his first big cases, just two months after he got the job – the abduction of a two-day-old baby named Stewart Rembert.
In August 1997 Melinda Coen gave birth to her son Stewart at St. Clare Hospital, located south of Tacoma. Just hours after bringing the baby into the world, Coen told TV station KIRO 7 that a woman came into her room around 1:30 a.m., identifying herself as a nursery nurse and wearing a white lab coat.
Hospital employees noticed the new doctor on the floor that night, too. But they said she appeared to be au fait with the layout of the hospital. Plus, she said she worked as an Army medic, and that she had been paged requesting her attendance. When the white-coat-clad woman reached the obstetrics unit, she reiterated her fake persona – and staff let her in.
The woman claiming to be a doctor then entered Coen’s room and told the new mom that she would take Rembert off her hands. Coen recalled, “[She] said she was the nursery nurse and that they were going to take [Rembert] to the nursery so I could get some sleep.” The woman then placed the newborn in a mobile cradle and wheeled him away.
Within 90 minutes, hospital workers realized something terrible had happened – they found the empty cradle discarded by one of St. Clare’s exits. Soon, they’d realize that baby Rembert had been the one who disappeared, and police issued an artist’s impression of the mysterious doctor who appeared to have taken him.
The next day, a nearby shop worker stopped a woman who had come into the store with an infant as well as two girls. He suspected her of stealing, but had to let her go because he couldn’t prove it. Later on, another staffer realized that the suspected thief might have already taken something infinitely more precious the day before.
The employee had seen the police sketch of Rembert’s kidnapper and realized that she had come into the shop with the baby in tow. He knew it was the wanted woman from a very particular facial feature. He later said, “She smiled at me and I recognized the jagged teeth.”
Luckily, after the alleged shoplifting incident, the employee who temporarily detained the woman had recorded what her vehicle looked like. He shared the news with the authorities and, within hours, they spotted the car – and the suspected kidnapper. But 30-year-old Kimberly Skurzewski didn’t have a newborn baby in her charge by the time cops found her.
In fact, Skurzewski initially denied taking Rembert from his mother’s hospital room. It would be her daughter, perhaps one of the two with her at the store, who would tell police the truth. The 13-year-old cracked during questioning and told the cops that her mother had, indeed, snatched the newborn boy.
The teenager revealed that Skurzewski had come home with a newborn. The tale the mom told her little ones was that she had purchased the baby boy for $500. But when Skurzewski realized that the story had made the news, she lost her nerve – and left the helpless baby behind a store beside a trash bin.
Backed into a corner, Skurzewski eventually told investigators where she had left newborn Rembert. The tiny baby had been laid in a cardboard box ditched next to the waste receptacle. Skurzewski also revealed the reason why she had taken the two-day-old boy in the first place.
In her guilty plea, Skurzewski said that the had snatched Rembert because she could no longer bear children. However, she thought a baby would be the only way she could save her marriage – her desperation led her to kidnap the newborn. Still, she claimed that she hadn’t pre-planned the crime.
Prosecutors saw things differently, though. They argued the detailed approach to abducting Rembert proved that Skurzewski had thought through every step in advance. With this in mind, the state’s legal team requested an exceptional sentence of 10 years for Skurzewski’s wrongdoings, to which the court eventually agreed.
As a fledgling FBI Agent in the Tacoma area, Sowers played a big part in finding Rembert safe and sound. In fact, he played a pivotal role in ensuring the newborn’s swift return to his parents – firstly, he had helped convince Skurzewski to tell authorities where she had left the defenseless baby.
Still, Sowers recalled in 2019 that learning Rembert’s location hadn’t fully eased his mind – he worried that the newborn wouldn’t be alive when they reached him. As Sowers recalled to TV station NBC News in August 2019, “We knew he had been out there for several hours. When I picked him up, he was not crying.”
But the two-day-old Rembert gave Sowers a sign that he was okay. The FBI agent described, “He just nuzzled right into my neck and I knew he was fine.” It wouldn’t have been that way without his and the rest of the bureau’s work. Sowers told the Knoxville News Sentinel newspaper in August 2019, “His chances of survival would have been pretty slim if we hadn’t found him that night.”
For Sowers, the rescue hit home – his daughter was young at the time, too. He told armed forces news website Military.com in August 2019, “This is what I came to the FBI for, to do good things like this. We had found him, he was alive, he was going to be returned to his parents. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Sowers went on to say, “Working a kidnapping case in the FBI is the quintessential thing that people think about the FBI. When you find the victim and the victim is still alive, it’s a great day.” And one of the senior agents knew that – according to NBC News, someone pulled Sowers aside to say, “You’ll never do anything better than that.”
Sowers may not have realized that when medical crews arrived to take Rembert from Sowers arms and back to his parents. But the FBI agent never forgot the case he solved so early in his career. In fact, he always wondered what happened to Rembert – he had always assumed he would never see the boy again.
Going forward, the case also helped inspire new methods for securing hospitals and their maternity wards. Rembert told KIRO 7, “From what I’ve been told by my parents, they did develop a new type of ‘bracelet’ that newborn babies wear that alerts hospital staff when a baby has been removed.” And thanks to Sowers, Rembert had the chance to grow up and live a fruitful life.
Despite his dramatic start to life, afterwards Rembert didn’t dedicate much time to thinking about his kidnapping. It had been “a devastating ordeal” for his parents but he, of course, had been blissfully unaware of the incident. He told KIRO 7, “I’ve lived a relatively normal life, so I don’t really have any reason to dwell on the past.”
Interestingly, Rembert had taken a similar path to that of Sowers, the man who had saved his life. Sowers’s early career had seen him enlist in the U.S.A.F. for four years. In a strange parallel, by 2019 a 21-year-old Rembert had become a corporal in the Marines, taking a post at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
For Rembert, a career in the military made sense – his father, John, had served in the Navy. His sister had served in the Air Force, and his brother had joined the Marines, too. As Rembert told Military.com, “It was only natural. I grew up loving hearing about everything the military did.”
In the 22 years since he rescued the future Marine, Sowers’ career had evolved, too. After working for the FBI’s Tacoma Resident Agency for eight years, he earned a promotion to the Counterterrorism Division. This change brought him across the country to work at FBI Headquarters, situated in Washington, D.C..
Three years later, Sowers once again headed west, this time to the Sacramento Field Office. In his California post, he oversaw the International Terrorism Squad. Then, he ascended to the role of assistant special agent, taking charge of intelligence programs. And, in 2018, Sowers took the helm at the Knoxville Field Office, where he ended his career as the special agent in charge.
Through it all, though, Sowers always remembered Rembert and the kidnapping case at the start of his career. His colleagues got wind of the story when Sowers mentioned it in a work meeting. He told Military.com, “In one of my final supervisors’ meetings, I commented that I felt like I’ve had a pretty solid career. In the first couple of months I pulled a baby out of a box.”
With that, Sowers’s co-workers – FBI agents, remember – got to work in finding the person who he had saved in 1997. It didn’t take long to locate Rembert through Facebook, and the agents decided to include his tale in Sowers’s retirement party. The veteran agent told NBC News, “I really didn’t see it coming.”
In fact, according to the FBI’s website, Sowers had only anticipated a retirement celebration over donuts and coffee. But, as it turned out, his colleagues had called up Rembert and asked him to come to the party, too – a request that had surprised the young corporal, to say the least.
Rembert told Knox News, “I was concerned. ‘Why is the FBI talking to me? I’m in the middle of a field op in Camp Lejeune.’” But he agreed to attend Sowers’ retirement party. And, in accepting the invitation, Rembert found himself contemplating what the FBI agent had actually done for him.
As Rembert told NBC News in August 2019, he owed Sowers a big debt of gratitude. He said, “It’s crazy to think that without his efforts, I wouldn’t even be here today. I wouldn’t be a Marine. My family wouldn’t be the same… I’m just super excited and honored to meet this man today.”
So, Rembert waited in the wings as the retirement party for Sowers began. Inside, someone told the story of how a then-new FBI agent had discovered the kidnapped newborn, before an updated photo of Rembert appeared on a screen. The image helped Sowers realize what was actually happening.
Sowers told Military.com, “I had a few seconds to tell myself, did they actually bring him here in person?” With that, Rembert walked into the party, and the room broke out into applause. Sowers admitted that the sight of the Marine had made him emotional – and he only had a moment to pull himself together.
Sowers said, “When I saw him, I had to pause a couple of seconds to keep my composure.” He reached out to Rembert and shook his hand, but that greeting didn’t suit the Marine. Instead, in a clip of the reunion from NBC News, he told Sowers, “My parents wanted me to give you a hug.”
Afterward, Sowers described the moment as “probably one of the best surprises I’ve ever had.” He also told Military.com that the reunion had served as the ideal send-off after more than two decades of service. The FBI agent said, “It was a wonderful way to leave the bureau,”
Sowers also appreciated seeing “the good [Rembert] is doing” through his career with the Marines. He advised that the young corporal keep it up in a video of the reunion from NBC News, and his tip could apply to anyone who has experienced an act of kindness. He said, “I’m glad to see what you’ve done with your life. Pass it on.”