Note: I need to start this article with a warning. This article involves the unsolved death of an infant. If you find the subject too sensitive, please stop reading here.
Usage of the name “Doe” as the last name of an unidentified victim, often infers that the unidentified victim has been forgotten by people as time passes. Sadly, this line of thought is too true as many of the John and Jane Does rest in the far corners of cemeteries in graves often unmarked and forgotten by most. With advances in forensic technologies, the unknown are being identified, but not all of them have gotten their names back.
It was a tiny Jane Doe that brought me to the sacred grounds of Oak Grove Cemetery on the northern edge of Tyrone. Unlike many of the Jane and Infant Does that sleep in anonymous graves across the state, this young life has not been forgotten as the Tyrone community continues to watch over the grave of the unidentified child.
I carefully navigated the narrow roadways to the place where the statue of the Virgin Mary stood at the southern edge of the cemetery. Parking on the roadway near the memorial, I stepped out of the vehicle and paused to read the dedication plaque to this sacred place. I finished reading it, took a deep breath, and stepped onto the simple brick path. Slowly and respectively I approached the small stone at the feet of the statue. The small stone reads: “Baby Agnes Doe / Feb. 1987 / Our Little Angel / Known only to God.” The stone is decorated with a small lamb – a traditional sign for a young, innocent child.
The story of Agnes Doe begins February 5, 1987. On what should have been a normal day for those living in the region, it would quickly turn to one of shock and horror. That day, a dog brought the remains of a tiny infant girl into a yard along Kerbaugh Road near Bellwood.
The exact age of the infant could not be determined, but it was believed she was between two days and a month old. The body showed signs she had been taken care of by somebody before her death, which was determined to have been a couple days before the discovery.
Sadly, due to the condition of the infant’s body, the exact cause of death could not be determined. Authorities stated it could have been murder, natural causes, or natural causes due to abandonment. Officially, the cause of death was listed as “homicide by unknown means.”
Authorities interviewed more than two hundred people about the unidentified girl. They contacted regional hospitals and doctor offices hoping someone might remember a woman who had given birth in the month leading to the horrific discovery. Despite searches, the identity of the tiny girl remained a mystery.
With little to go on the infant’s remains were in limbo.
Unlike many unidentified bodies, the short life of the unknown girl touched residents. The St. Gregory Council of the Knights of Columbus of the St. Matthew’s Parish wanted to make sure the infant was properly buried. They asked permission for the body and on June 20, 1987, the unidentified girl was given a proper burial in the sacred grounds of Oak Grove Cemetery.
The child would not become another Jane or Infant Doe. Instead, the Council agreed on a name for her – Agnes Doe. The baby would be named in honor of St. Agnes, who is the patron saint of young girls.
In 2006, a Boy Scout project would create a new memorial for Agnes Doe at the southern edge of the cemetery. Benches and a statue of the Virgin Mary were placed at the new location and Agnes Doe was carefully moved to this new resting place. The shrine, known as “Home of the Holy Innocents,” became a place for locals to come to remember all babies lost or killed over the years.
The death of Agnes Doe brought a region together. People continue to remember the infant during the annual Celebration of Life March held by St. Matthews Church. Members of the congregation and community gather to walk the 1.25 miles from the church to Oak Grove Cemetery, where a short prayer service is held at the grave of baby Agnes Doe.
I wiped away a tear as I finished remembering the tiny life whose identity remains a mystery. Unlike so many other John, Jane and Infant Does, she has not been forgotten as the years have passed. With a heavy heart, I left Agnes Doe’s resting place, leaving her to be watched over by the statue of the Virgin Mary and the community that adopted her as one of their own.