When should police stop investigating a teenager's death, even if the circumstances of the death are not yet fully resolved?
For Baltimore police and Annie McCann, that time is now. Except for a few loose ends, detectives have decided to suspend the case, saying they invested 1,200 hours and the resources of up to 44 people, exhausted leads and are now almost sure the 16-year-old runaway from Virginia whose body was found Nov. 2 took her own life.
Annie's parents, Daniel and Mary Jane McCann, who are aggressively pursuing the case with private investigators and say there is much more for police to do, left a meeting yesterday describing city police as "defensive, hostile and adversarial." Police told me they took umbrage at remarks that they felt disparaged their detectives.
The relationship between grieving relatives and impartial detectives is almost always strained. Police feel families find some facts hard to accept, and families feel police don't look hard enough to uncover the truth.
Annie left her Alexandria home Oct. 31 and left a note on her bed saying she had contemplated suicide but decided to run away instead. Her body was found two days later off Lombard Street east of the Inner Harbor; her car was dumped five blocks away.
A fingerprint on the car led police to a youth who admitted removing Annie's wet body from the vehicle so he and three friends could take a joy ride. Authorities determined that Annie overdosed on lidocaine from drinking a bottle of the antiseptic Bactine; the medical examiner ruled her death undetermined - neither homicide nor suicide.
The McCanns bought space on billboards, put up a $10,000 reward and released a sketch of a woman seen with Annie buying a pastry at Vaccaro's in Little Italy and in Club Orpheus on East Pratt Street.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said detectives will try to determine if a woman being held in a Caroline County jail is the woman in the sketch and complete a scan of Annie's computers. But that's it.
The McCanns want police to determine whether their daughter was forced or lured to Baltimore. But to police, those questions are more about how and why Annie got to Baltimore and what she did when she arrived, and less about whether a crime occurred.
"We gave it everything we had," Guglielmi told me.