Two balloons, red and blue, tethered to two teddy bears fluttered under a tree near the Garfield Park Conservatory. They stood as a lonesome memorial to a toddler whose dismembered remains were found last week in the Garfield Park lagoon.
The balloons fluttered gently in the background Thursday as the Chicago Police Department held a news conference to release a forensic artist’s sketch of what the child might have looked like and to ask for the public’s help in identifying the child.
“We’re here this morning to reaffirm the commitment of not just the Chicago Police Department but of the city of Chicago. We’re working with various agencies like the Water Department and Parks Department, state and local officials and departments like the Cook County Sheriff to ensure that we solve this heinous, senseless event that has occurred here in the city of Chicago,” Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.
“At this point, we’ve got a lot going on, but we still don’t know what happened,” McCarthy said, speaking in a parking lot adjacent to the lagoon.
The child’s remains — its hands, feet and head — were found over the Labor Day weekend. Since then, police divers have searched for additional evidence or body parts and police and city workers have begun to drain the lagoon.
Police hope someone will recognize the child from the sketch and call with a promising lead.
The child is believed to be African-American or biracial with short black hair and between 18 months and 4 years old. The child was probably a boy, but because of the condition of the remains authorities can’t be sure.
“Whether or not this is a murder, we don’t know at this point,” McCarthy said. “We’ve done a lot of really good strong work, but we’re going to need help from the public. And the public should be outraged.”
Chief of Detectives John Escalante said the department has fielded more than 150 calls and tips, many of them referring to a case involving a missing toddler in Gary, Indiana.
Police said they continue to welcome any and all tips, encouraging anyone who knows a child from their community who is missing under unusual or suspicious circumstances to pick up the phone and report it.
The FBI-trained forensic sketch artist who produced the drawing, Cook County Sheriff’s Detective Tim McPhillips, said it was composed from personally viewing the remains and from photographs taken by himself and the Cook County medical examiner before the autopsy. It took McPhillips about four hours to complete the sketch.
“I do hands-on work, none of that computerized stuff,” McPhillips said. “When I submitted my original sketch, they said, ‘Are you sure that’s how the baby looked? There’s bottom teeth.’ I said, ‘I didn’t see any bottom teeth.’ They hadn’t given me all the photographs by mistake. So they submitted more photographs to me,” he said.
“The next day, I enhanced it, making the jaw a little longer, and putting the teeth in. The problem with the teeth is by it being in the water so long, they start to fall out. So luckily, I had the first photographs before the autopsy.”
McPhillips said the case was his first involving dismemberment. The case reminded him of a 2013 case in Maywood in which the parents were charged with killing a toddler and throwing the body into the Des Plaines River.
“But that baby was not dismembered,” he said. “To see this with an innocent baby like this, that we know is at the hands of some family member possibly, is disheartening.”
On Thursday, Chicago Police began distributing leaflets with the child’s sketch to cars passing by the lagoon.
Members of a community group who attended the news conference, the Garfield Park Advisory Council, took stacks of the leaflets to distribute throughout the community and at a vigil for the child Thursday at the shore of the lagoon.
“When I get on the bus, people are talking about it. When I’m in the store, I hear it. This child is being discussed,” said Levette Haynes, the council’s acting president.
“It becomes a little more saddening with this sketch, because this looks like a little happy face. And you can’t imagine someone doing something like this to a child,” she said.
“Hopefully, the more we talk about it, and by passing these out, someone recognizes there’s something familiar about this picture,” she said. “We need to see a conclusion, not just for the community but for the family involved and for the child.”