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'I'm ready to live' haunts parents of Va. girl found dead here

Baltimore Sun reporter

Annie McCann thought about killing herself. She wrote about suicide in three notes, but they were found with large X's drawn over the words, crumpled and tossed under her bed in her suburban Virginia home. The one Annie apparently meant to be read, she left lying on her bedsheets on Friday, Oct. 31, the day she went missing.

"This morning I was going to kill myself," the note reads. "But I realized I can start over instead. I don't want help and I'm no longer scared. If you really love me you'll let me go. ... Please don't go looking for me."

Further down the page, the 11th-grader assured her parents she had everything under control: "Just know for the first time in my life I'll be happy. I love life, and I'm ready to live."

Two days later, early on a Sunday, a man taking out his trash found Annie's body lying next to a bin in the Perkins Homes projects on Lombard Street east of downtown Baltimore, propelling her parents, Daniel and Mary Jane, from a frantic search for their missing daughter to a determined mission to learn how and why she left home, how she died and whom she might have met along the way.

The couple is planning a public campaign starting with a news conference tomorrow to push Baltimore police into doing more to solve the case, to work harder to find people who might have seen her in Baltimore when she was alive and the teens who confessed to moving her body after she had died. They are paying for four billboards on the city's sports stadiums and highways to enlist the public's help and are offering a $10,000 reward for tips the family hopes will lead to answers.

They know authorities are leaning toward suicide. Annie ingested a 5-ounce bottle of Bactine, which her mother gave to her to disinfect her newly pierced ears. Bactine contains the numbing agent lidocaine, which was found in Annie's system, and can be lethal if taken orally.

"They worked the case hard when there was nothing to work," Annie's father, Daniel McCann, said of Baltimore homicide detectives. "As clues emerged, they have worked it less hard. We understand there are 36 murders in Baltimore this year, but there is basic police work that needs to be done here that hasn't been done."

The McCanns feel there are too many unsettling and unresolved leads to close this case now, leads that suggest Annie was not alone when she roamed the streets of Baltimore and died, leads that the family believes contradict or at least raise doubt about suicide.

The note found on her bed reads more like a retraction than an expression of a will to die. And what person planning suicide runs away, as Annie did, with the $1,000 she had saved, a trunkful of clothes, nearly all her jewelry and a big box of Cheerios?

And who, the night before planning to kill herself, stays late, as Annie did, at school to work on extra credit for an Advanced Placement psychology class? Or shops for Halloween candy? Or leaves happy notes for her parents telling them she can't wait to see them when she gets back from the store?

And what about the white male in his 30s with a goatee whom a teenager in Perkins Homes told police he saw abandon Annie's white Volvo with her body on the back seat, a body the teenager and two friends told police they moved so they could steal the car and take it for a joy ride? And who is the woman with dark hair a clerk in Little Italy saw with Annie the day before her body was found?

The couple is concerned that the Police Department's decision to shift the death file to the cold case squad is a signal that the active part of the investigation has ended. The medical examiner ruled that her manner of death was an overdose of lidocaine but that the cause of death is "undetermined."

The McCanns are at a painful crossroads; anxious to push detectives overwhelmed with other murder investigations to do more without angering them, but unable, with so many questions lingering, to accept that their daughter took her own life.

I met twice with the McCanns over the past week and talked with the detectives in homicide on Friday. They differed on some points. The family said Annie's body was "soaking wet," as if she had been in a shower, while Maj. Terrence McLarney, head of the homicide unit, described it as damp from an overnight drizzle. The family said the teens found her facedown in the back seat; police said that's not precisely correct but wouldn't go into further detail.

The key difference is how the police and the McCanns interpret evidence as to whether Annie took her own life. What they do agree on is that after four months, investigators have no idea what happened to Annie between the time she left Alexandria and was found dead in Baltimore. There are no e-mails, no text messages, no calls and only tentative sightings that police have not been able to verify.

"She did a very good job of disappearing off the grid," the lead investigator, Detective Sean P. Jones, told me, adding that he has never had a case in which someone committed suicide with lidocaine.

McLarney said that Jones has done extensive work on the case and that because the detective has been transferred to cold case, he remains in charge of the investigation. The major said notes found near Annie's body "indicate her intent to commit suicide. We still have this as an open, pending death. The suicide notes are pretty compelling, but we understand that the family wants and needs answers. We are trying to provide those answers."

Daniel McCann said those notes were rambling and erratic, with words he thinks don't conclusively point to suicide. He uses the note found on the bed as his benchmark, the one he says his daughter wanted read:

"Please let me be free," it concludes. "Yes, I'm a 16 year old, almost 17, who knows nothing about the world. But just give me this chance to have my own experience. I love you, and I will be careful."

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