Photos: Amazing 53-day search for Sharrieckia Page's baby in a landfill
Earlier today, we told you about the discovery of remains identified as Torrey Brown Jr., a seven month old whose body was allegedly thrown away by his mother, Sharrieckia Page; see original coverage below. The death of this child is undeniably terrible, but the story of the search for his body is astonishing: a 53-day marathon involving hundreds of people in the most miserable conditions imaginable. Sergeant Joe Dougherty, the recovery incident commander, puts it like so: "We were searching in hell so one small soul could go to heaven."
Big photos below.
In late March, as we've reported, the Commerce City Police Department received a missing persons report about Torrey, with early information suggesting that Page, who'd made comments about the baby that alarmed relatives, had discarded his corpse in a dumpster. If this proved true, and investigators believed it was, that meant his remains had been transported to the Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site, a mammoth facility. So the first order of business for the CCPD was to narrow the area that needed to be searched -- and fortunately, officers were able to do so.
"Waste Management has the logistics of their operation down so scientifically that we were able to shut things down the day we discovered we needed to do a search," Dougherty says. "And we were able to go through their records and see exactly where loads went that were coming from Commerce City, since they operate in one section of the landfill at a time."
Courtesy of the Commerce City Police Department A long view of the site.
Of course, the zone Waste Management pinpointed remained enormous: a two-and-a-half acre site covered with rubbish that was between eight and twenty feet thick -- the equivalent at its deepest of a two-story building. The total amount of garbage there was estimated at 13,000 tons, an amount that collected over a span of just a day and a half. "If you can picture Dick's Sporting Goods Stadium, it was about the size of that," Dougherty says. "It was the equivalent of seventeen football fields, but eight to twenty feet deep."
Moreover, the garbage was compressed, meaning that it couldn't simply be plucked from the pile a piece at a time. Instead, Dougherty recalls, "an excavator would scoop it from the area where we started at and put it into the back of a dump truck. Then the dump truck would take it to the location where we had four sift lines. A front-end loader would spread it, and then we'd have anywhere from 25 to thirty people on those lines who would sift through it. They'd go through all four lines, and then the process would start over again."
Courtesy of the Commerce City Police Department An excavator in action.
The Commerce City department made the search a priority, setting up twelve hour shifts to allow staffers to take part -- and each one of them eventually did so. But given the local force's modest size (a total of 55 responders), the CCPD simply couldn't handle such a huge undertaking without assistance. Fortunately, Dougherty says, plenty of folks offered to help.
"We'd never handled anything of this magnitude," he says, "but the FBI heard about the operation and stepped forward to give us assistance in getting it up and going, including providing personnel from throughout the state. And the CBI did the same thing. They were out there for almost a month."
They weren't alone. Originally, the CCPD said that 26 agencies or groups took part, but the actual number was 34, ranging from the American Red Cross and Arapahoe Community College to the University of Tennessee Anthropology Department and the National Guard, which had chaplains on site to set the proper tone and assist anyone who felt overwhelmed. Total number of people: around 500.
As for the conditions, they would have had to improve a great deal to be considered merely dreadful.
Page down to continue reading about the search for Torrey Brown Jr., and to see more photos.