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Dogged investigators give Bella her name back

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The doggedness of investigators paid off Thursday night, when authorities finally made a breakthrough in the tragic case of Baby Doe, the unidentified toddler whose body was found washed up on the shore in Winthrop in June. A national outcry followed the discovery, but the investigation appeared to have stalled until a tip led police to search a home on Maxwell Street in Dorchester. On Friday, the child was identified as Bella Bond, age 2½. Bella’s mother, Rachelle Bond, and her mother’s boyfriend, Michael McCarthy, are due to be arraigned on Monday; prosecutors say McCarthy killed the child and Bond was an accessory after the fact.

State Police, along with colleagues in Winthrop and other municipalities, deserve immense credit for pursuing the mystery so aggressively, and not allowing it to fade from public consciousness as time passed. The investigation required sifting through hundreds of leads, and following countless dead ends. The State Police made good use of both social media and more low-tech approaches like billboards to circulate images of the girl. In the end, the breakthrough apparently came after the Boston Police received a phone call. As of Friday night, the identity of the tipster was unclear, but Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley credited the individual with helping to crack the case.

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The combined effort — by many branches of law enforcement, and by the public — helped give Bella her name back. And it may help expose other problems, too. It’s much too early to know what will come of the case, but it would appear that it points to possible failings by the state’s Department of Children and Families, which had some involvement with the girl’s family in 2012 and 2013, according to Governor Charlie Baker.

DCF is already under intense scrutiny for the deaths of several children. By its nature, the agency deals with families in crisis. There are no perfect solutions when it receives reports of neglect, as happened twice for Bella. Taking children from their parents is perhaps the most controversial action the state can take. In the case of two of Bond’s previous children, the state did terminate her parental rights.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear the agency was right to make those two calls. It’s just as clear, though, that something then went wrong when it came to Bella. In coming days, the department will need to explain why it closed the case, and why it didn’t check its recently closed cases for children that fit Bella’s description this summer. The State Police put in enormous effort over three months to identify Bella. DCF’s task will be to make a commensurate effort to identify any lessons that can be learned from her tragic story.

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