For officers, it was all about Bella
The odds were, it was always going to end this way. Who would throw the body of a little girl away in a trash bag, like so much rubbish?
It was always going to be people caught in the chaotic vortex of addiction and dysfunction and poverty, people so estranged from their families and the outside world, people so incapable of taking care of themselves that it was almost inevitable that the person most endangered by their pathologies was a child in their care.
After looking for the origin of Baby Doe in 36 states and countries half-way around the world, the State Police and Winthrop detectives who worked tirelessly to put a name to a digitally-created face found it in an apartment building in Dorchester, seven miles from where her body was discovered on Deer Island in June.
Bella Nevaeh Amoroso Bond had more names than people looking after her.
Her mother, Rachelle Bond, had alienated her family with her chronic addiction and the crimes she committed to feed her habit. She stole from her own family.
Neighbors remember a stream of sketchy men, straggling up the stairs at the house on Maxwell Street in Dorchester, like zombies, looking for a fix or sex or a place to crash. Most of them left soon enough in a haze of drugs and tumult.
One of them, Michael McCarthy, stayed and Rachelle Bond told police he killed Bella by punching the 2-year-old girl repeatedly in the stomach. His mind and soul poisoned by heroin, she said he claimed the child was possessed by demons.
But those neighbors never made a call, even after noticing that Bella was gone. They never put two and two together. Their apathy or obliviousness or fear is easy to judge and harder to understand.
“It’s not my business,” one of the neighbors, Aileen Hermiz, said when asked why she didn’t do anything after noticing Bella was gone.
At least she was honest enough to say so. Many people who live in multiunit buildings like the one on Maxwell Street are afraid to get involved in others’ troubles, afraid that a punch in the face, a brick through a window, some slashed tires, or worse, are the reward for blowing a whistle. The disreputable men who flitted into Rachelle Bond’s apartment scared her neighbors. Her bizarre behavior made them uncomfortable. That doesn’t excuse their attitude, but it puts it in some context.
Some neighbors assumed Bella had been taken into state care, a not unreasonable assumption given her circumstances. But even if that were the case, why not call the police when you see that Baby Doe photo splashed all over front pages and TV screens?
How hard could it have been to make an anonymous call?
If neighbors thought the chaos Bella was living in or her sudden disappearance wasn’t any of their business, it certainly was the state’s business, and the Department of Children and Families had Bella on its radar. Rachelle Bond had lost custody of her two other children years before, and social workers had intervened in Bella’s case twice. But because Bella was just an infant when that last intervention took place two years ago, no one at DCF put two and two together, either.
It is easy to blame the government, and from what we know now it looks blindingly obvious that someone working for the state should have taken Bella away from a mother who would choose her next high and junkie boyfriend over her daughter. But at some point, in this case and in so many of the other grotesque cases of abused children burned into our consciousness for the last two years, you have to ask: where are the families in all this?
The answer is always the same, whether it was Jeremiah Oliver, the 5-year-old boy from Fitchburg who vanished without anyone noticing and whose body was disposed of just as callously as Bella’s, or countless cases that never make the news: the relatives who are often in the best position to report that abuse or disappearance are too removed, too consumed by their own problems, too credulous, too frightened, too compromised, or too clueless to raise the alarm.
Bella’s aunt said she didn’t recognize her niece, even after seeing the digital image that was eerily similar to Bella. She described Bella as being about 5, when Bella was not yet 3.
Bella’s maternal grandmother, who helped raise Rachelle Bond’s two other children after they were removed by the state, didn’t recognize Baby Doe as her granddaughter because she had never seen Bella.
Bella’s biological father was out of her life and out of state for the last couple of years, but after he returned to Massachusetts recently he was in no rush to find his daughter.
Bella’s paternal grandmother thought the photo of Baby Doe looked like her granddaughter. But she didn’t act on that thought.
It is ineffably sad but undeniably true that far more concern was shown for Bella by strangers who never knew her than the relatives and neighbors who did. There have been several vigils for her at the spot where her body was found. On Friday, by sheer coincidence, as her identity was confirmed, a crowd that included Massachusetts Water Resources Authority workers and Winthrop officials and just ordinary people gathered to dedicate a memorial at the shoreline where she was found.
Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley and the State Police investigators assigned to his office took this case personally. When they looked at that photo, they saw their daughters, their nieces, their neighbor’s kid.
It would be easy and cynical to say that Trooper Dan Herman, Detective Lieutenant Jack Lannon, Lieutenant Bob Murphy, and Sergeant Scott Holland were just doing their jobs. But they and so many other investigators from Winthrop and surrounding police departments went above and beyond.
From the moment they stood on the shoreline, staring at Baby Doe’s body, Herman and Holland vowed they would not rest until they found out who she was and why she died.
Herman, the lead investigator, drove around with that digitally-created image of Bella taped to his dashboard.
And on Saturday morning, 24 hours after solving the biggest mystery of their careers, Dan Herman’s State Police colleagues were back on that same craggy shoreline, in Revere, a few miles north of where they found Bella Bond’s body. This time it was an unidentified woman’s body.
Dan Herman couldn’t join them. He was back at the office, on what was supposed to be a day off, still working for Bella.