On June 25, authorities found the remains of a 2-year-old girl wrapped in a trash bag and discarded on Boston’s Deer Island.
Unable to identify the remains, investigators circulated a recreated image of the girl, dubbed "Baby Doe," requesting tips and information from the public. Once identified, officials realized that social workers had been involved in home repeatedly, yet the tiny girl had slipped through the cracks.
For nearly three months, the hunt for "Baby Doe's" identity yielded no results, until someone staying with Rachelle Bond alerted authorities that Ms. Bond’s daughter had died.
Upon investigation of Bond’s house, authorities positively matched DNA samples to the remains of Bella Bond. Both Rachelle Bond, Bella’s mother, and Michael McCarthy, Bond’s boyfriend, were arrested on Thursday.
Bond alleged that Mr. McCarthy punched Bella several times in the stomach because “he thought she was possessed,” reported CNN. Medical examiners have yet to release the official cause of Bella’s death.
On Friday, McCarthy was charged with murder and Bond was charged as an accessory to murder after the fact.
"We allege that McCarthy caused Bella's death, that he did so intentionally, that he and Bond took specific steps to keep Bella's death a secret and to avoid prosecution," Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley told reporters.
Once officials had identified Bella, they learned that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) was involved with Bond for years, and had taken two other children out of her custody. DCF intervened on Bella's behalf on two separate occasions in 2012 and 2013 in cases of "support for neglect," but the cases were closed.
Two questions swirl around this case: How did no one identify the girl for three months? And why did DCF not provide better support for Bella?
Reporters have asked Bond’s neighbors such questions and it seems that most didn’t want to get involved or had assumed Bella had been taken away by DCF, like Bond’s two older children.
"I didn’t put two and two together," Siomy Torres, Bond’s neighbor, told the Boston Globe. "I didn’t want to get into that lady’s business. She always had these creepy guys hanging around."
When authorities circulated pictures of Bella, DCF did in fact do a sweep of all open cases involving toddler’s around Bella’s age, reports The Daily Beast.
But Bella’s case was closed. She wasn’t involved in the sweep.
Unfortunately, this is far from the the first case of children dying on DCF's watch. Between 2001 and 2010, 95 children with Massachusetts state social workers on their case died. And this only accounts for known deaths.
DCF confirmed their involvement with Bella, but did not provide details on why her case had been closed or why they did not follow up.
"DCF has not had an open case with this family for over two years, but did have brief involvement with Baby Bella as an infant,” agency spokeswoman Rhonda Mann told the Boston Herald.
Between 2001 and 2010, state officials recorded almost 50 homicides of children under 4 years old. Like in Baby Bella's case, the killer was usually either a family member or someone dating a parent, say officials. "Among homicides in children aged 0-14 years, a family member or parent’s boyfriend/girlfriend was the suspect in nearly 69% of cases."
Headline-grabbing tragedies raise public concern and prompt promises of action, but political attention tends to be short-lived, said children's advocate Jetta Bernier.
"During recent public hearings, legislators were quick to make blustering criticisms of DCF," said Ms. Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children. "Where was all this indignation when decisions were made to reduce its budget and cripple it with 200 less social workers? Everyone has to take responsibility here."