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Officials: Family may know about Mass. "Baby Doe's" death

Baby Doe

WINTHROP, Mass. -- The Massachusetts state police have not ruled out the possibility that an unidentified girl found dead June 25 on a Boston Harbor peninsula was killed by a family member, an agency spokesman told 48 Hours' Crimesider.

The child, now known as "Baby Doe," was discovered dead in a trash bag by a woman walking her dog on Deer Island's western shoreline. State police say she was about four years old with brown hair and brown eyes. But her identity -- and her cause of death -- remains a mystery.

"Our job as police is we want to speak for her, by determining how she died and holding accountable whoever's responsible for disposing of her body in that manner," Massachusetts state police spokesman Dave Procopio told Crimesider. "But the most basic question is, who is she? What's her name?"

The child's body didn't show any apparent signs of trauma and it's not clear whether or not she was murdered, Procopio told Crimesider. However, after her information was shared with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and state and local jurisdictions across the country, Procopio said state police can't find any corresponding missing persons reports.

"If any local police department had taken a report on her by now, I think we would know," Procopio said.

It's likely the child was never reported missing at all, he said -- raising the possibility that a family member or caretaker knows about her disappearance, but hasn't come forward because they may have killed the girl or disposed of her body.

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Investigators released pictures of a blanket and leggings found near an unidentified girl's body on a Massachusetts island.

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Officials say the girl was found inside a trash bag with a Zebra print blanket, wearing polkadot leggings, close to the shoreline of Deer Island, a peninsula connected to the Boston suburb of Winthrop by a causeway. Procopio said the child's body was either placed on the shore, or placed somewhere in the water before it washed up. He said it was likely there only for a period of days based on the condition of the body -- officials believe she was alive the weekend before she was found, Procopio said.

Tuesday, Suffolk County district attorney Dan Conley spoke directly to the child's parents at a press conference, appealing to them to contact authorities.

"If you are a parent or caregiver and you did this -- placed her body in a trash bag, wrapped it in a blanket and left it on the beach or put her in the ocean -- clear your conscience," Conley said. "Step forward and make yourself known, because nobody deserves that kind of ending."

Hundreds of tips have poured in after officials last week released a composite image of the child developed by NCMEC. The computer-generated image has received an unprecedented response on social media, with more than 45 million views on social media accounts for the Massachusetts State Police, Winthrop police and the Suffolk County District Attorney's office, Conley said. Local and national media has also helped to spread the word.

Officials are asking the public to study the image -- and they're hoping it will jog someone's memory.

"Someone has to have seen her, someone has to have known her," Procopio said.

In 20 separate instances, law enforcement followed up on an "actionable" lead to check on the well-being of a child, Conley said Tuesday. But so far, none of the leads have panned out.

More than 100 tipsters have likened the child to missing West Virginia girl Aliayah Lunsford, who was three when she vanished from her Bendale home in 2011, Procopio said. Though the photo of Aliayah "looks remarkably like our little girl," Procopio said investigators found that Baby Doe is not Lunsford after speaking with local authorities in West Virginia and Lunsford's family.

They've also ruled out a match to missing Maine toddler Ayla Reynolds, Procopio said.

A preliminary autopsy has been completed, but toxicology results are still pending, Procopio said. The state police crime lab has begun the process of extracting DNA, working with an academic lab, though results could take some time, he said. The child's DNA would then be compared to state databases that require DNA sample submission for those convicted of certain crimes.

While it's unlikely a child's DNA would turn up in such databases, it's possible an adult relative might, he said.

Procopio said the response from the community has been "heartwarming." Strangers have offered to contribute money for funeral services for the unidentified child, and employees of a water treatment plant near where the girl's body was found are raising funds to build a memorial in her honor, he said.

"In so many of these tragic cases you see the worst of humanity and the best of humanity at the same time, and I think that's the case here," Procopio said. "No one's come forward who knew this girl, and that's frustrating, it's disheartening. But we're also heartened by the response and people wanting to help."

Anyone with information is asked to call the Suffolk County State Police Detective Unit at (617) 727-8817, Massachusetts State Police at (508) 820-2121 or Winthrop Police at (617) 539-5806.

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for CBSNews.com's Crimesider.