Who was Baby Doe, and how did her body end up in a trash bag on a Boston Harbor beach?
These are the questions Massachusetts State Police are attempting to answer, with help from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and some 50 million strangers.
The child nicknamed "Baby Doe" was first discovered on June 25, when a woman walking her dog on Deer Island in Boston Harbor came across a trash bag on the beach. Inside was the decomposing corpse of a girl who experts estimate was about four years old. She was wearing white leggings with black polka dots, authorities say, and a zebra-print blanket was stuffed in the bag with her.
Using photos of her remains, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children produced a computer-generated image of what the girl may have looked like when she was alive. This photo was posted to the Massachusetts State Police Facebook page on July 2, and has received nearly 60,000 likes, over 670,000 shares, and nearly 50 million views since.
"The amount of views of this post is a record for us," a spokesman for the State Police told NBC News. "It goes to show the power and reach of social media. This case (unfortunately) is pulling on the heart strings, which I am sure has played a role in having it shared."
The 52,000 comments on the photo contain a long list of the places the image has been shared (Colombia, Australia, and Montreal, Canada are among the most recent), tips and names of young girls resembling the image, and condolences to the family, whoever they may be.
So far, investigators have tracked down 20 names supplied by the public, but all 20 girls were found to be alive.
Adding to the mystery of Baby Doe is the fact that investigators still don't know how she died. There were no obvious signs of trauma to her body, and an autopsy performed by the state medical examiner's office did not determine the manner or cause of her death, the Boston Herald reports. As of Tuesday, authorities were still awaiting the results of toxicology tests to determine if she had been poisoned or drugged.
State police spokesman David Procopio told the Boston Herald that investigators are grateful to the public for "caring about this little innocent" and "continue our request for leads."
"We need people to continue to look at her and think about her and let us know if anything in their memory clicks," he said.
This wouldn't be the first time social network users came together to help the police. Social media has been instrumental in finding many missing children, and earlier this year Facebook teamed up with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to send Amber Alerts to the news feed of users in nearby areas.
“There are so many parts of America where law enforcement is stretched so thin.… The media is a huge tool. But now we have a powerful social networking platform that can let people know immediately,” John Walsh, the co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told ABC News.
“It is a fantastic way to use social networking for good.”