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."
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."
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."
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.
"It was extremely windy," Dougherty says. "It would blow fifteen to thirty or forty miles per hour every day. And the volunteers and personnel out there had to wear a Tyvek suit, and when you put it on, it's fifteen degrees hotter than the ambient air outside. So it was extremely hot at times, and sometimes it was extremely cold and windy -- and it rained on several days, turning everything to mud. It was just horrific, unbelievable. And the smell got worse by the day. And you can only imagine what these guys were sifting through."
Nonetheless, Dougherty maintains, "the motivation never dropped. We never lost sight of what we were trying to accomplish there, and that's how everybody individually kept themselves motivated. We thought, 'We can go through this stuff as long as we can attain the goal.'"
He characterizes the atmosphere throughout the search as "very solemn. Everyone knew what was going to take place once the child was found."
And so it came to pass. On May 30, after going through around 9,900 tons of material, and spending 17,431 hours, the remains were located. While Dougherty declines to go into specifics about the body's condition due to the criminal charges against Page, he says that afterward, "everybody went to their designated location, and it was quiet -- so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
"I've been a police officer for over thirty years and handled all kinds of difficult situations in those thirty years -- and I can honestly say, this is probably the biggest operation I've ever had to deal with emotionally. It touched all of us. There weren't too many dry eyes out there."
The impact of the search will be felt by those involved in it for a long time to come. With that in mind, CCPD Lieutenant Dennis Moon notes that "we have a peer support group within the police department, and we've also arranged for trained professionals to come in and do a critical-incident debrief for the officers, just to make sure everybody is doing okay. And it's something we're going to monitor for a while."
Moon adds that "everybody who was there wanted to be there. Everybody was a volunteer and remained a volunteer throughout the entire operation. They were dedicated to this and really focused on doing what they need to do out there."
That was certainly the case for Dougherty. "Maybe deep in your subconscious you thought we might not find him," Dougherty allows. "But if people thought it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, it wasn't. We knew what we were looking for -- a small child in a big pile of rubbish. And we all knew we were going to find him."
Original item, 5:49 a.m. June 8: The April arrest of Sharrieckia Page for the murder of her infant son took place sans the discovery of the child's remains. And while cops emphasized that the search for his body was ongoing, finding it seemed impossible, since Page was suspected of throwing seven-month-old Torrey Brown in the trash. Two months later, however, his corpse has been found and ID'd. Not that it was easy.
In late March, as we noted in previous coverage, the Commerce City Police Department began investigating a missing persons report involving Torrey, with early reports suggesting that his body had been found in a dumpster. That proved premature, but the possibility Page had disposed of him in this manner became law enforcement's working theory.
In the days that followed, relatives told CBS4 that Page, who had a total of three children, struggled with the baby. Indeed, her grandmother, Corinthian Brown, said she called Child Protective Services last November after some of Page's comments made her fear for the boy's safety. Torrey Brown Sr., the child's father, had similar experiences. Among the things he remembered Page uttering: "Don't get mad if pretty much he ends up in a casket."
Such remarks appear to have continued after her arrest. During a phone conversation from jail, Page allegedly told Torrey Sr., "This is what you wanted, right? Are you happy?" before hanging up on him.
Such behavior inspired Adams/Broomfield County District Attorney Don Quick to charge Page without waiting for the child to be found.
Since then, an army of searchers was dispatched to search through the Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site. According to CBS4, 500 people from 26 agencies and community organizations spent a total of 19,300 hours digging through rubbish on the sprawling site, shifting an estimated 9,900 tons of waste.
A mere 53 days later, an infant's body was found, and Quick's office reveals that DNA results have positively identified it as Brown.
Page had previously been charged with first degree murder, as well as child abuse resulting in death. Look below to see a larger version of her mug shot as well as a CBS4 report from April.
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