KEARNEY — In late October, a young man with short, slicked-back blond hair and colorful tattoos walked through the doors of the Riverdale Christian Church. The Sunday morning service was over, but that's not why he was there.
A handful of people stood in the sanctuary talking as the unfamiliar face asked for the Rev. Scott Guthrie. It was the third time the man had been at the church, although parishioners didn't know it.
After 22 years, the man was hoping to get answers for himself and to provide answers for those involved.
The first time he was at the church, he was only hours old, a crisp 60-degree fall morning on Sept. 6, 1996, when three Riverdale boys found him alone as a newborn on the church steps with only a towel near his head. The boys were headed to catch the bus to a Kearney middle school when one of the boys heard a sound that drew their attention to the church.
Named Baby Doe by law enforcement (or Baby Dale by some locals who lived in Riverdale), the 7-pound, 7-ounce infant was bloody, mucus-covered and blue, and a portion of his umbilical cord still was attached. His body temperature had dropped to the mid-80s and he suffered from hypothermia.
After a week in the hospital, the baby was placed in foster care.
Law enforcement conducted a neighborhood canvas for possible witnesses, and followed up on tips of a possible mother, but no one was located.
Months later, after no one came forward, the court terminated parental rights and the baby was adopted by his foster family.
About a year after the baby was found, a couple with a toddler came to a church service, sitting in a back pew. After the service, the parents, who never gave their names, told Guthrie they were "from the South" and the child was Baby Doe.
"The sense that I had was that they wanted us to know he was OK and being taken care of," Guthrie said. "The courage they showed to walk up those steps and bring him to that service ... "
Adoption records are private in Nebraska, so for almost everyone involved in the case, the baby's identity and whereabouts were unknown. Until late last month.
From the time he was 9 days old, Joseph D. Marvin has lived with his adoptive parents, Larry and Melodie Marvin of Holdrege. He and his older brother, Ryan, now 29, of Atwood, Kansas, were the last of numerous children the couple fostered over the years.
Marvin first learned the word "adoption" from other children when he was 5 years old in day care. He questioned his parents, who confirmed they adopted him as an infant.
The Marvins did not respond to a Kearney Hub request to be interviewed.
When he was a high school freshman, Marvin's parents told him he was Baby Doe and showed him a March 1997 Kearney Hub article about his adoption. Marvin tried to research his story online, but the Hub stories weren't online at the time.
In high school, Marvin played on the Holdrege tennis team, but shortly before his 17th birthday, doctors found ulcers lining Marvin's large intestine and diagnosed him with ulcerative colitis.
"I almost died," he said.
Two weeks later, he started having circulation problems in his left leg. The problem got so bad that he missed an entire year of tennis competition.
Doctors eventually determined he was born with a rare genetic condition that causes poor blood circulation. A stent was put in Marvin's leg and his circulation improved.
Marvin started classes at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, but often was ill. When he was 19, his colon ruptured.
"They told me I was going to die if I didn't have surgery," he said.
Marvin would undergo three surgeries over nine months to remove and reconstruct his colon. Each day he takes blood thinners to prevent blood clots.
If only he knew his medical history.
It wasn't until recent months, sparked by an unlikely set of circumstances, that he seriously began searching into the early hours of his life, reaching out to everyone — law enforcement, the boys who found him, Hub writers and Guthrie — who played a role in his rescue.
"This last month has been weird to me. Everyone is finally getting closure on me — except me," Marvin said.
Like everyone who played a role in Marvin's case, Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller said, "It does my heart good" to hear Marvin is doing well and was taken care of by the Marvins. The case to find the birth mother remains open."
Marvin wants to find his birth mother, who he believes is in her 40s, and learn his medical history.
"Looking at the grand scheme of things, I think she left me at the church as a safe place. I've never, ever really been mad at the situation until I was sick. Just because, if I would've known my medical history, I could've told my doctors," he said.
Marvin now is a senior at UNK, majoring in sociology and criminal justice. His blood disorder eliminated him from a career in the military, which was his dream. He now wants to be a law enforcement officer.
He's active in the Phi Kappa Alpha fraternity on campus where he is the recruitment chair, has been president of the criminal justice club for the last two years and plans to graduate in December 2019.
With a strong faith, Marvin feels God always has had a hand in his life, especially now. "I feel like He wants me to figure this out."
Guthrie couldn't agree more, saying courage played a big role in the case and taught everyone the value of life.
"I think the person who left him had a tough decision," Guthrie said. "There's only 10 little steps going up there, and to leave him there and turn and walk away is a hard thing.
"I think they loved him and they thought that was the best thing for him. There's some reason he got left at the church."