There was a slight, surreal feeling of celebration in Carl Dorr's kitchen yesterday--in walked his victim assistance counselor, John Lyon, with a six-pack of beer, greeting him with a hearty "Hey!"
Dorr, sitting at the tiny kitchen table, his red-rimmed eyes blinking from behind wire-rimmed glasses, looked up with a grateful grin and said, "Thanks!"
And yet, what was there to celebrate? The discovery, the night before, of the bones of Dorr's 6-year-old daughter. The finding of a piece of pink-and-white, polka-dotted bathing suit material, like the suit Michele Dorr was wearing that spring day almost 14 years ago, just before she disappeared.
"There will be time to grieve later. I have a lot to juggle right now," said Dorr, who sat in the little white kitchen of his one-story brick house in Kensington as his wife, Margaret, fielded calls from family members and reporters, placing messages on the table in front of him. "It's a good kind of stress."
Yesterday was just one more stomach-churning surge in the dizzying trajectory of Dorr's protracted tragedy.
In 1986, within hours after the shock of his daughter's disappearance from his back yard, Dorr had been questioned as a suspect. "That was after they told me, the day after she disappeared, to give up hope I'd ever see her again. It was unbearable."
Over the years, police would periodically think they had a lead on Michele's remains, and Dorr would troop to the spot and watch people dig. "It got to be a kind of annual thing."
And during the sentencing of Hadden Clark, at the point when those affected by a crime have an opportunity to get up and make a kind of cathartic speech, Dorr felt he had to hold back. If he angered Clark, Dorr reasoned, the man convicted of killing Michele would be less likely to tell police where he left her remains.
"The way this guy holds a grudge, I thought, I would really lower my chances of ever finding her," he recalled yesterday.
As he sat in front of a refrigerator plastered with grocery lists and coupons, the minutiae of daily life, Dorr said he is hoping that the discovery of Michele's remains will bring him some peace, or perhaps just a grief less riddled with uncertainty.
Before the breakthrough of finding the remains, Dorr had been planning--with Michele's mother--to purchase a plot at a Prince George's County cemetery "to have someplace to go, to keep remembering her and hope that we could find her," he said. Now Dorr is hoping to bury his daughter there, beside his parents and grandparents.
There will be a funeral, maybe in two or three weeks, Dorr said, but that will have to be formally decided, and a date set, when he gets together with his former wife, Dee Dee Appleby, possibly Sunday. For Appleby, whose attorney could not reach her to relay a request for comment, the long-awaited discovery of her daughter's remains has been painful, Dorr said.
"She told me she was having trouble sleeping," said Dorr, who said police told him Wednesday about their leads on the whereabouts of Michele's remains. Dorr said he drove to the site in the White Oak neighborhood of Silver Spring on Friday and had the eerie experience of seeing a man he believes was Clark with the authorities: "I saw someone with a goatee and a watch cap. Whew. I think it was him."
Yesterday, Dorr said he didn't feel as though he needed Clark to lead police to the body in order for him to be publicly vindicated. Dorr, who at one point confessed to the crime under intense police interrogation, said Clark's trial and conviction last fall blew the cloud of suspicion away.
"It was pretty clear in the trial, and then the things he said afterwards to inmates, when he pretty much confessed, left little doubt," said Dorr, a slight, soft-spoken man who spoke to the media throng that came through his house asking about closure.
Yes, it's closure, but you never really have closure, he told reporters again and again. But little things, little ways to reclaim something of the child he lost, bring some comfort, he said.
"I understand there's her roller skates and a duffel bag she had with her the day it happened," Dorr said. "They're in some evidence room. Maybe now I can get them back."