For nearly three months, employees at the Deer Island wastewater treatment plant have mourned and kept faith with the anonymous little girl whose body washed ashore on the rocky beach nearby, raising money for her burial and a memorial of their own design.
And on Friday, after the bronze fawn had arrived and the granite marker had been laid, after the child-size bench had been secured and a cherry sapling had been planted behind it, they had planned a quiet dedication. Then came the sudden news: The girl had been identified. Her name was Bella.
"Today is really an unforeseen twist," said Fred Laskey, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, bowing his head before a gathering of nearly 100 people and a bank of television cameras. "It's just been a roller-coaster ride for everyone involved. The emotions have run very high."
Laskey, like the others who spoke at the gathering along a public walkway just above the beach where Bella's body had been discovered, swallowed hard and struggled to put into words the powerful connection that authority workers have felt to the child, the anguish over her mysterious and lonely death.
"I just don't know what to say," Laskey said, as those around him — from office workers in sundresses and button-downs to sewage plant laborers in dungarees and scuffed workboots — stood in solemn silence, eyes hidden by sunglasses.
"It just gets worse and worse. . . . How does a young baby like that. . . . It's just been awful," he said, his voice trailing off.
Led by the MWRA's labor management council, workers in the authority's five unions as well as members of management — and those in the community who heard about the cause — have donated $3,800 and counting toward the memorial and toward eventual burial costs for the child, said Susan Brazil, an MWRA human resources worker and former labor leader who organized the effort.
Brazil, a mother of four and grandmother of 11, said "everybody froze" when they first learned what happened in June. And then they all wanted to help.
"We all have special people, little kids; we all have a 3-year-old somewhere in our life, or a 4-year-old," she said.
That generosity is expressed by local businesses like East Boston's New England Casket Co., which is donating a custom-sized casket; and Heimlich's Nurseries in Woburn, which contributed the flowering cherry and chrysanthemums to flank the marker.
The town of Winthrop has offered a grave site for the girl in the municipal cemetery, Peter Gill, president of the Winthrop Town Council, said at the MWRA service.
At the ceremony, held on a picture-perfect late-summer day, they stood for one moment of silence, and then a second. The Rev. Robert Bacon, who works full time as captain of the boats the MWRA uses to monitor Boston Harbor water quality near the plant, asked those gathered "to think about the Bellas in our own neighborhoods, on our own streets. Who can we be keeping an eye out for? Who can we be helping to protect? Who can we keep safe and bring up in the ways of goodness and compassion?"
The bench beside the memorial — engraved with a flower, a butterfly, and a ladybug — overlooks Boston Harbor, where scattered sailboats dotted the water and the skyscrapers of Boston's Financial District rose through the haze 4 miles away. The marker reads:
For reasons we may never know
An angel came to our shores
Causing us to shed a collective tear
May she rest in peace and never be forgotten.
As the crowd slowly dispersed, Brazil said Bella's name would be added to the marker.
Even as the mysterious girl's identity began to take shape, Brazil and the others continued to struggle with a question that has haunted them since June: "How," she asked, "could someone throw away a child?"