For months, the mystery behind Baby Doe, the dead child found in a trash bag on the edge of Boston’s Deer Island, dumbfounded law enforcement as they followed tips across the state, country and the world trying to find out the identity of this girl—and what happened to her.
A computer generated image of the child was shared millions of times. Her face was on the front page of local papers, in stacks near the checkout counter of nearly every convenience store in the city. Her soft brown eyes stared out at commuters going in and out of Boston on a billboard pleading with drivers: “Remember me?”
For 85 days, it seemed like nobody did.
Now we know the name of that child: Bella Bond, the 2-½-year-old from Boston. Her mother’s associate, Michael McCarthy, is facing charges for her murder. Rachelle Bond, Bella’s mom, is facing charges for accessory after the fact.
We now know who she was. And we know, based on dozens of photos from her mother’s Facebook feed, that the computer generated reconstruction of her face was spot on.
So what took people so long for someone to step forward—especially when Bella was known to child protective services officials within the state?
We have yet to learn the details of Bella’s family life. The child’s neighbors tell reporters it just didn’t click, or they were too shy to ask Rachelle what happened to her baby. Even neighbors with whom Bella used to play didn’t speak up.
It’s a dizzying testament to a disconnected society, sure—but there are people whose job it is to stay connected, or at least, to remember.
The tipster that led police to identify the child and to her caretaker’s arrest had been asking about her repeatedly. Bond explained she was with the Department of Children and Families. She wasn’t.
But the Massachusetts DCF had met Bella twice before.
In fact, Rachelle Bond had a long history with the department. Between 2001 and 2006, the department took away two of her children, agency officials say. One was adopted by Bond’s grandmother, where the child still lives. The other was adopted by a family unrelated to Bond.
When Bond had her third baby, Bella, the department was called in again. On Aug. 8, two days after Bella was born, according to her mother’s Facebook, DCS opened a case indicating that she needed “support for neglect.” By the middle of December, the department determined that services were provided, and they closed the case.
But agency officials say they had to come back the following year, again to provide “support for neglect.” Just like the time before, the case was opened and closed.
When Bella was found dead on a beach, DCF says the agency tried to help.
“Since June, the Department has been working closely with law enforcement on exploring dozens of leads in hopes to identify the little girl found on Deer Island,” said DCF spokesperson Rhonda Mann in a statement.
They did a “sweep” of all the open cases involving toddlers around her age. Department agents say social workers visited every one of those children.
But they never reached out to Bella. Despite Rachelle Bond’s repeated run-ins with the department, since Bella’s case was closed, it wasn’t involved in the sweep. And despite the millions of images around the world, and around the city, her soft brown eyes never rang any bells to the DCF workers who had met with her before.
Bella’s death will do no service to the Department of Children and Families’ already embattled reputation.
Last year, four-year-old Jeremiah Oliver was found dead on the side of a highway. DCF officials later acknowledged that they had failed to do home visits, according to The Boston Globe. Earlier this summer, a 7-year-old boy fell into a coma after his father allegedly beat him and denied him food or drink. The child had lost somewhere between 12-15 pounds. But a DCF worker, who had met him just two weeks before he slipped into the coma, didn’t see cause to remove him from that home. Last month, a two-year-old was found dead and another toddler was in dire shape inside a foster home that a DCF worker had visited just three days before the child’s death.
A recent study shows that more than 180 children were abused or neglected while in state custody last year.
What’s in store for Bella’s caregivers is yet to be determined. McCarthy is facing murder charges, but so far medical examiners have yet to find evidence of Bella’s cause of death on her body.
Suffolk County District Attorney says McCarthy murdered Bella “intentionally” and “by an act of violence,” but so far no details of that violent act have been released. Connolly says more details may be revealed at McCarthy’s arraignment on Monday. For now, even McCarthy’s attorney Jonathan Shapiro is unaware of the specific allegations against his client.
But, with what appears to be a lack of physical evidence, Shapiro wonders if Bella’s case may play out like another famous trial involving a dead toddler—one where the mother got off.
“This could be like the Caylee Anthony case,” he told The Daily Beast.