By Aaron C. Davis and Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The homicide detectives stood in the cold wind yesterday at a quiet Clinton cemetery to bury an infant they named Maria del Pilar. They were the only mourners.
A month ago, the newborn was found alive in a trash bag in the Takoma Park area. She died later that day, and her mother was charged with murder. No one stepped forward to bury her, so Prince George's County police officers gathered yesterday morning to do so themselves.
"This was a baby no one loved. This was a child who did absolutely nothing wrong," said Maj. Daniel Dusseau, head of major crimes for the Prince George's police.
Maria is the third infant whom Prince George's police have named and buried at Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton, a somber ritual that officers say is both cathartic and, they hope, a reminder to parents of what happens when they abandon a baby.
Buried next to Maria are two others: John Caleb Daniels, who was found in a plastic grocery bag in Oxon Hill in 2004, and Maria Grace Daniels, who was found in a plastic bag in a sediment pond in Riverdale Park in 2006.
The children could have been taken to a hospital, a church, a fire station or another safe haven, as allowed under Maryland state law, authorities said. Instead, police investigated their deaths and planned their funerals.
The lead investigator in Maria's case, Detective Nelson Rhone, organized yesterday's service and helped name Baby Jane Doe: Maria, because she was Hispanic, and del Pilar, after the Virgin of El Pilar, who is celebrated in Spain on Oct. 12, the day of the baby's birth and death.
"Every detective wants to close his case and provide some closure for the family. Unfortunately, when there is no family, the only closure we can provide is to the infant," Rhone said.
The funeral was a collaborative effort: The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 raised money for a headstone, Lee's Funeral Home donated all services and a tiny coffin, Clinton Floral Shop sent a basket of pink carnations and white daisies, and the police chaplain performed the ceremony.
In addition to showing compassion to infants who died within hours of birth, the funerals help detectives cope with the heartbreak of such cases, said Steve Rhoads, the police chaplain. Most people don't realize the strong bond that investigators often form with victims whose deaths they are trying to solve, he said.
"They think that these guys are robots and unfeeling," Rhoads said. "This proves that they are not."
The cases of the first two abandoned babies are unsolved, but police have an arrest in Maria's death because of an anonymous tip. Four days after Maria was found, Prince George's police arrested Wendy Y. Villatoro, 25, who lived in the Takoma Park area. She admitted abandoning the infant, police said, and was charged with second-degree murder. The baby's extended family declined to claim the body.
"These are the kinds of victims your heart just breaks for, because they were completely innocent," said Detective Kelly Rogers, who helped organize a funeral for Maria Grace Daniels, the baby found in Riverdale Park. "Most of us have kids and know that if you just hear somebody yelling 'Mommy' in a crowded store, you turn your head out of instinct. You know something must have been seriously wrong with them or going seriously wrong for them to do this."