This is not the actual photo of the girl whose remains were found on a Boston Harbor beach last month. Instead, it’s latest computer-generated image of what the girl might have looked like, and it’s moved the emotions of millions online as investigators are still trying to determine her identity, officials said.
The girl — dubbed “Baby Doe” — was found on the western shore of Deer Island with a zebra print blanket and wearing white leggings with black polka dots, according to the Massachusetts State Police. Authorities believe she was 4 years old, with brown eyes and hair, weighing 30 pounds and about 3-and-a-half feet tall.
They also have no idea how she died. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created a composite image, which they updated this week to include pierced ears.
Police shared the first composite image on Facebook last week and has since generated more than 600,000 shares. It appears under the heading, “Help us speak for this child” and people from all over the country have pledged to share it with their networks.
“It’s really captured the hearts” of the public, and law enforcement social media accounts have collectively received 45 million hits on their pages as a result, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said Tuesday
“If you are the parent or caregiver of this young girl, please step forward. Clear your conscience and help us identify this young child,” Conley said. “She deserves to have her identity known to the public and she deserves the kind of dignified burial of any human being.”
Forensic artists used autopsy information and images of the girl sent by police to create the composite. Bob Lowery, the organization’s Missing Children Division vice president, called composites “vitally important” since photos like those of the dead child are “not appropriate” to share with the public. “But it’s the public we need to engage with, to look at this child, because that’s how we’re going to get her identified.”
“Every now and then we have a case like this, and that probably has a lot to do with the age of the child, the circumstances in which the child was found,” Lowery said. “Sometimes it touches the hearts of many and it motivates the public to get motivated to help.”
Investigators declined to speak to the possibility of criminal charges in the case, as the autopsy hasn’t yet revealed a cause of death, Conley told the Boston Globe. She was found in a large trash bag on Deer Island and Conley told the Globe that police believe she had only been dead a short time before she was discovered.
The girl may appear to be Caucasian in the image, but she may have also been Hispanic, Lowery said. She may have been from outside of Massachusetts.
Police also shared images of the leggings and blanket she had as they pleaded for the public’s help in the case. The zebra fleece blanket “may be very special to this little girl,” Conley told the Globe.
The attention the image generated “astonished” investigators, the Associated Press reported, shattering previous social media records for government pages and leading to “dozens and dozens” public tips. Police have followed up on those tips and found 20 girls to be safe. They are urging people to contact them if any child they know is missing.
In recent years, social media has made it easier to spread the word about missing and unidentified children, Lowery said, and advances in composite imaging technology also has made composite sketches more life-like. “The more alive we can make that child look, the better the public is able to connect with that image and help,” he said.
[This post, originally published July 8, has been updated.]