Story highlights

Forensic artist Christi Andrews: "I feel a connection to each case"

More than 50 million people have seen or shared a computer-generated image of toddler

Body of the 4-year-old girl washed ashore near Boston on June 25

CNN  — 

It took forensic artist Christi Andrews less than four hours to bring the face of “Baby Doe” to life in an image that has touched millions.

She started from scratch, studying autopsy information and morgue photos of the unidentified remains of the little girl, found in a trash bag along the rocky shoreline of Boston harbor. Andrews worked on Adobe Photoshop to recreate the toddler’s big brown eyes, chubby cheeks, hair reaching just below the shoulders, her earrings. Such composites generally take about a day to produce.

“This was a rush request,” said Andrews, who works for the Virginia-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “I tried to get this out as soon as possible.”

In the two weeks since the remains were discovered along the shore of Deer Island – a narrow peninsula just east of Boston’s Logan Airport – more than 50 million people have seen or shared Andrew’s composite of what Baby Doe may have looked like in life.

“If she looked like this in life, I think we can all agree she’s precious and she really deserves the dignity of a funeral and a burial and in her own name,” Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley told CNN on Thursday.

Image of ‘Baby Doe’ found dead near Boston moves millions

“It makes us proud here in Boston to know that we have so many people who have stepped up … to bury her. Funeral directors are sort of coming out of the woodwork to do this, churches and just ordinary people.”

In her 12 years as a forensic artist with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children – the nation’s clearinghouse on missing and sexually exploited children – Andrews has fashioned hundreds of facial reconstructions from photos of unidentifiable remains.

‘Connection to each case’

“I feel a connection to each case,” she said. “Creating a reconstruction from the deceased requires intense study of the facial features. We connect to each other as people through our face, and especially our eyes. I usually start with those first. And once I feel I’ve achieved the proportions and details of the eyes, the image begins to come to life for me.”

Andrews uses stock photos to fill in the facial features. She likens the process to building a Mr. Potato Head. The eyes are the turning point.

“It goes fast after that and the other features seem to fall into place,” Andrews said.

“Once the image is technically finished as a whole, I take one last long look at it, to make sure of two things – is it representing the deceased as closely as possible? And secondly, is it connecting to the viewer? I want each image I create to make someone stop and really look at it. I want the person that knows this child to hopefully see the composite, and when they do, say, ‘I know who this is,’ and speak up.”

Conley said authorities have received dozens of tips from people who saw the composite.

“We’ve actually received so many (tips) that are credible and we’ve done 20 well-being checks on children,” Conley said. “Luckily, in all cases, the child was fine.”

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children released the composite of Baby Doe last week. Massachusetts State Police posted it on Facebook and distributed it via Twitter.

“This is getting millions and millions of views and has captured the hearts of many people,” said Robert Lowery Jr., a vice president at the center.

“The age of the child … has a lot to do with it. The fact of the way she was found. I think that has captured our attention. And I think we are all very focused on trying to find out her name because we certainly want to find out what happened to her.”

Baby Doe could be from anywhere in the world, he said.

“She could be from another region in the country altogether – if not Hispanic or possibly from Mexico or even Canada,” Lowery said. “So all those possibilities are out there. We don’t want to close our minds to what we think might be.”

The center has at least 650 similar cases, Lowery said.

The child is believed to be about 4 years old, authorities said. She was about 3½ feet tall and weighed about 30 pounds. Police also released photos of the blanket and the polka-dot leggings she was wearing.

“We like to stress that as lifelike as these images are … we’re not creating portraits of people,” Andrews said. “We’re creating tools for law enforcement.”

The girl’s body was discovered June 25 along the shore of Deer Island, which has a 2.6 mile recreational perimeter accessible to the public, according to the National Park Service. The island is near the Port of Boston, one of the busiest on the eastern seaboard. It’s unclear how long she had been dead but there was some decomposition when her remains were removed from the trash bag.

It’s also not clear whether her body washed ashore or was discarded on the shoreline, according to David Procopio, a spokesman for Massachusetts State Police.

“The indignity of it has really struck a chord with all Bostonians and all New Englanders, and we have tried very, very hard to identify who she is and how this could have come to pass,” Conley said.

Boston DA: Toddler who washed ashore ‘remains a mystery to us’

Authorities are awaiting the results of toxicology tests to determine whether the girl was poisoned or ingested drugs before her death, Conley said. There is no definitive cause of death, and the body bears no obvious signs of trauma.

“We are extremely grateful for the many tips we have received, and we ask the public to keep sharing this little girl’s photo and information so that we may continue to receive and follow up on leads,” Massachusetts State Police said on its Facebook page.

The post has more than 50 million views and more than 675,000 shares, according to the state police.

“How can nobody miss her?” Nina Marie Arnold-Orlando asked in one post.

Andrews said her work is nothing like what’s portrayed on television shows like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

“We like to say, ‘There’s no enhance button,’” said Andrews, an animator by training. “It doesn’t work like that.”

CNN’s Lawrence Crook III contributed to this report.