And now come the hard questions
She lived right here. For nearly three years, she was right under our collective noses. She played with a small friend next door. She was there one minute, gone the next. And no one said a word.
The photographs of Baby Bella that emerged Friday are nearly identical to the composite drawing that ricocheted around the Internet millions of times. The television coverage was massive. It was front-page news.
And now it appears that a desperately dysfunctional household — a haze of drugs and criminal neglect — was inexplicably savvy enough to elude one of the biggest dragnets in recent Boston memory.
The disgrace of it all.
Neighbors said the little girl’s mother, Rachelle Bond, was such an odd presence that they had no appetite to confront her about a missing toddler.
“I didn’t put two and two together,” Siomy Torres told me Friday. Torres lives right next door and yet didn’t know the name of the little girl who played with her own 4-year-old daughter.
“I didn’t want to get into that lady’s business,” Torres said. “She always had these creepy guys hanging around.”
Two investigators knocked on Torres’s door in Dorchester about 9 Thursday night. They asked about Bella. She told them what she knew. They were nice men, the neighbor said.
You wonder whether they had to restrain themselves from jumping over the kitchen table as she — and her neighbors — explained why they never picked up the telephone. Her photograph was everywhere, plastered across our landscape, screaming from highway billboards, ubiquitous on Facebook.
The photograph said Bella. They said nothing.
Maybe there’s an excuse. Two of Bond’s children had disappeared before into the custody of the state and then been adopted by others. But no. There is no excuse.
“It’s very sad,” said Torres, who grew up in Charlestown and moved into the Maxwell Street apartment in February 2014.
She regularly heard the little girl crying. And then after the latest of the mother’s boyfriends moved in four months or so ago, the crying abruptly stopped.
“I feel really bad,” Torres said. “[Bond] acted like nothing happened. She was acting like everything was fine.”
But what about the little girl? What about the adorable child with the long brown hair, the pierced ears, and the cute polka-dot clothing?
“She just never came up in conversation,” Torres said.
Imagine that for a moment.
How is it possible in this plugged-in world where a simple sidewalk greeting has been replaced by text messages and e-mail exchanges, that the story of the little girl on Deer Island did not penetrate the consciousness of her tight little neighborhood? How is it possible it did not provoke a phone call of concern?
Turns out, there was no need for that team of investigators, who lived this thing every day, to consult tidal charts. There was no need for them to chase down tips from the forests of Brazil to the villages of Peru.
The beautiful little girl in the trash bag found on a Deer Island beach in late June was not driven halfway across the country and dumped in Boston Harbor.
No. She lived right here.
What happened here holds echoes of the much debated, and disputed, account of the 1964 murder in New York City of Kitty Genovese, who, stabbed in the back, screamed: “Please help me! Please help me!” Early accounts said 38 witnesses did nothing to intervene. That number is now in dispute.
What we have here seems the opposite of that, or a 2015 variation of it. A little girl on a quiet street who lived across from a red-brick public school was playing one minute, crying another. And then there was silence. And no one noticed. Or they just looked away.
As neighbors Friday watched the modern-day media scrum move amoeba-like across Maxwell Street, some began to erect the obligatory makeshift shrine made of mylar and fabric. They shook their heads and walked away, heads down, eyes averted.
As one woman, standing in a blazing mid-day sun, received word that the little girl had been identified, she sucked in her breath, adopted a visage of shock, and placed her hand over her mouth.
“She’s got a name? She’s got a name!” the woman cried. “Baby Doe no more. Baby Bella. Praise God.”
Praise God? More like: God have mercy.
Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist.
He can be reached at email@example.com.