Tour their house and you immediately understand why. Annie McCann, who apparently ran away from home and was found dead a few days later in Baltimore of still mysterious causes, seemed a typical teen-ager. But what is typical? She was involved with sports, active in school and church, had many friends (tributes run into the hundreds) and enjoyed engaging in strong-willed arguments about politics with her parents.
She appeared to be grasping the responsibilities of being an adult -- she was driving and one dresser drawer was filled with perfume -- while embracing the innocence of childhood -- she loved to cuddle on the couch with her mom, another dresser drawer was filled with videos more popular with 10-year-olds.
Her father works as a security chief for the Transportation Security Administration. Her brother Sam is studying journalism at a college in New York. Her parents were parents want to know why she suddenly apparently wrote a note saying she had run away from home and somehow ended up being found in Baltimore, dead in the Perkins Homes projects, her car with Virginia license plates parked five blocks away.
Spending an evening with the McCann's was heartwrenching. I met the family beagle, Breeze Max, and learned a favorite back and forth between father and daughter -- "Oh, blessed beagle!" he would say. "Oh sainted hound," she would reply.
The night before she disappeared, Annie, a rabid New York Yankess fan, told her Red Sox-loving father: "I wish the World Series was still on. I'd love to watch a game with you." Daniel McCann remembers that as if they were his daughter's last words. It wasn't. Intead of baseball, they talked politics, of her love for Obama, his support of McCain, of how she opposed abortion but for her it wasn't the only issue. Her mom couldn't make stuffing for Thanksgiving (it was Annie's job) or put up the Christmas tree (she loved to help).
The house is a virtual shirne to Annie. Prayer cards fill desktops and are taped to walls. Her elaborate artwork is framed and hanging on walls. Her father saved a soda can because it said, "New York" on it. Her room has been cleaned of clutter but everything else left in tact, from the stuffed animals on the bed to the Yankee penants on the ceiling. At the front entrance, a newspaper clipping about Annie is next to a candle and vase filled with red roses. It will stay, her mother said, until they find out what happened.
So far, the story is a mystery. The autopsy has not revealed how she died. Police say they have no clue why she left her home, how she got to Baltimore and how she ended up dead. Her parents say they are prepared for the worst: drugs, an Internet predator, but so far authorities say nothing leads in any one direction.
The McCanns admit Annie was sheltered. She only recently got her own e-mail address (before, the family shared one) and her mother has access to all the messages. Same with her cell phone. She drove, but mostly only to school and to a nearby shopping center, and was legendary for getting lost when going out alone. She shunned organized basketball, preferring to instead play for a club team that allowed her to get home earlier in the afternoon. She served as an alter girl for her church. Her father told me a girl couldn't be more sheltered in today's society unless she lived in a convent in the middle of Amish country.
Her note she left behind when she disappeared indicated she wanted to be free, and fly someplace far away. Was she smothered at home? If so, her parents said she showed no signs of any problems. Her father has hired a private detective and has consulted colleagues at the TSA, many of whom are former police officers. The computer is being analyzed by police, and teenagers have ways of leading lives beyond their parent's knowledge.
Still, Baltimore police admit that have few leads and almost no new information on the case, which is now a month old. It's a mystery not only in how Annie died, but how she got, as her father says, "from here to there."
The Mount Vernon Gazette in Virginia recently ran a story on Annie on its front page, "A mystery wrapped in an enigma" and showed a picture of a rock decorated by her classmates at West Potomac High School. On it they painted, We love Annie. The love was was in the form of a giant red heart. Off to the side were the initials "NY" with the Y superimposed over the N, the way the Yankees do it.
A few days before she died, Annie wrote a poem. Her mother gave it to me and it's posted below. Much of it is personal -- it talks about the Coast Guard (her father served); names of music bands she liked; of her Irish and Czechoslovakian heritage; of trips to the New Jersey Shore and to Yankee Stadium (and Fenway Park); of her dog's "jingling collar."
Death is usually straightforward in Baltimore. Annie McCann's parents not only don't know how she died and why, but why she came to this city in the first place.
Below is her poem and some pages from her funeral program.