Have you heard about the Garden of Innocents? The Garden of Innocents is according to their website, ďa nonprofit corporation dedicated to providing loving and dignified memorial and burial services for unclaimed children and infants in the custody of Medical Examinerís offices in the City of Saint Louis and surrounding areasĒ. A place that exists not in fairytaleís but in true life. A place where no one is forgotten, or laid to rest without a beautiful outfit, a warm blanket, a beautiful casket and a loving family to lay witness to oneís very existence on earth.
In 2006, Rebeca Navarro-McKelvey, learned about the death of a 2-month-old baby girl named Destiny Daniels. Destinyís teenage mother, Jilanda Daniels, just 19 years old, held her baby by the ankles and slammed her head into a curb and then threw or kicked her baby into the street, according to multiple witness accounts. If no one claimed the body, Rebeca told the coronerís office she wanted to provide funds for the little girl's funeral.
While talking to the coroner Rebeca learned several infants come through the City of Saint Louis Morgue ever year, and when no one claims to be the infant's next of kin, eventually the city buries these children in a potterís field type ceremony. This conversation was the beginning that led to the creation of the Garden of Innocents. With the help of her family, and friends, Rebeca began asking for help, and she received it. A special place for God's smallest of children and in 2006, the Garden of Innocents came into fruition.
I learned today that the Garden has received 26 children into their loving arms. The Garden is located deep inside the Calvary Cemetery in Saint Louis. Each person who helps at the Garden is a volunteer. The staff who work at the garden help plan, set-up, and finalize a loving goodbye for some of God's littlest children. Today I saw firsthand the love and commitment the Garden of Innocents provides children without a family as I attended along with my husband and daughter the service for Saint Louis' Jane Doe.
Saturday was a bright, bitter cold, slippery morning in and around Saint Louis. However, a measly 19 degrees above zero was not enough to stop anyone from attending the Garden of Innocents ceremony for Precious Hope. Precious Hope, previously known as the Saint Louis Jane Doe was provided a loving ceremony filled with song, prayer, a teddy bear, flowers, love, and tears. Then her Saint Louis family followed the hearse out to the Garden of Innocent's burial plot where Precious Hope will rest, safely among her brothers, and sisters buried before her.
Precious Hope has been part of Saint Louis since the discovery of her decapitated torso in the basement of an abandoned building in February of 1983. In a previous article, I penned, Unsolved Child Murder Saint Louis 1983, I wrote about the Saint Louis Jan Doe. That short mystery is one that holds more questions, than answers. Yet, here we are 21 years after two men looking for copper pipes located her body in an abandoned building and called police. What we learned then and know now, she is a young African American girl believed to be around age 8-11 years old, found with her arms bound behind her back. No one could have ever have imagined that 21 years would pass and her identity and previous life would remain a mystery. How could a mother or father could not be missing their little girl? The truth remains no one has claimed her. No one has been able to find her family.
The police detectives working her investigation attended her original burial at Washington Park Cemetery. They are and always will be her family. In 1983, DNA did not exist. Today it does, and it has made incredible advances from its early years. Therefore, last year the city decided to exhume the torso of Jane Doe to obtain DNA that might finally end the mystery of her identity. Investigators hoped to learn where her family came from; perhaps they could finally identify her killer. This idea proved more difficult than expected when authorities discovered her headstone incorrectly places on another plot. However, even that did not stop the detectives working her cold case as they were determined to find her once again. Once located, she was moved the coronerís office.
Sadly, her DNA did not solve the mystery of her identity but it did narrow down where she may have been born and lived out her early years. The DNA obtained by the FBI during testing identified specific minerals or isotopes that naturally occur in water basins. In other words, the water she drank for years before her death has helped narrow down where she may be from. The evidence suggests she was born in the southern hemisphere of the United States. For detectives this is a godsend. Now they can concentrate on several states instead of the entire United States.
Precious Hope received a proper and loving burial on February 8, 2014, in the Garden of Innocents. Before her burial, her family, the citizens of Saint Louis and the surrounding area prayed, sang, loved, and cried for a little girl who once was lost and forgotten. Today those present showed Precious Doe that she will always live in the hearts of so many. She will never again be forgotten or unloved. There remains hope that one-day her biological family can answer questions regarding her childhood, as well as her horrific final moments of life.
Yes, through the incredible advancements of DNA analysis, there is Precious Hope that one day this little girl's life will no longer be a decades old mystery, and that her killer gets the justice deserved. As each of us sang, prayed, cried and loved Precious Hope we affirmed that the words of Dr. Seuss indeed ring true. After all, "a personís a person no matter how small.Ē
If you have any information regarding the life or death of Precious Hope, please contact the Saint Louis Police Department or the FBI immediately. If you are interested in volunteering for the Garden of Innocents, please visit their website for more information.