Clutching a bouquet of white roses, Dee Dee Appleby approached the wooded site yesterday where her younger daughter lay buried for more than 13 years.
As a cold wind whipped around her and traffic roared past along Route 29, just over a grassy hillside, Appleby knelt at the grave, pressed her forehead to the packed soil and cried.
"I didn't know what it would look like," she said, regaining some composure after a few minutes. "I just can't believe this beautiful girl I gave birth to ended up here in such an ugly fashion."
It was Appleby's first visit to the place where Hadden Clark led Montgomery County police a week ago, ending their 13 1/2-year search for Michele Dorr, 6, who vanished from the back yard of her father's Silver Spring home on May 31, 1986.
Standing in the background, about 20 feet from the throng of cameras surrounding Appleby, was Montgomery Police Sgt. Bob Phillips, one of the original detectives on Michele's case.
After unearthing Michele's body, police had blown dried brown leaves around the area to cover the spot where they had dug. But local residents found it and have transformed it into a small shrine--something Appleby said she was grateful for.
"Just looking at this is agony," she said.
Appleby, a private woman who has mostly avoided the media spotlight, said she wanted to publicly thank those who had come to the site to remember her daughter.
Michele will be buried in a Fort Lincoln cemetery after her funeral tomorrow. But Appleby said that after so many years of not knowing what had happened to Michele, saying goodbye will take time.
Visiting these woods, she said, was one step. She took another, she said, during a recent visit to the Hines-Rinaldi funeral home, where she lifted the covering in the small coffin, placed a hand on her daughter's skeletal remains and covered her again.
"It was my way of saying goodbye," she said. "The last time I touched her, I was saying goodbye 14 years ago."
Appleby, who now lives in Solomon Island, Md., and who has an older daughter, Tina, from another marriage, stayed about 15 minutes, long enough to be asked repeatedly how she felt, what she was thinking. She talked about relief, about a "peaceful burial" for Michele.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to say," she said at one point, gazing about blankly before breaking into tears.
CAPTION: Dee Dee Appleby wipes away a tear at the site where her daughter Michele Dorr was buried after being slain in 1986. At left is a friend, Benjamin Connelly, who accompanied Appleby.