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Investigation of A Tragic Death Strengthens Community Bonds between VCOM and Opelika Police Department

Melinda Carter MD
By Brittany Lilla -

On Jan. 28, 2012, the incomplete skeletal remains of a small child were discovered in the woods next to a mobile home community in Opelika. At the time, the remains were sent to the FBI for anthropological examination and genetic testing. Once they received a report, the Opelika Police Department (OPD) reached out to the public for help to identify this unknown child, dubbed “Baby Jane Doe.” Based on this original examination and subsequent additional tests, they sought to put a name to a young Black girl, approximately 4-to-7 years old, who had suffered from multiple broken bones at the time she died. There were no leads on her identity, and the case remained unsolved.

In summer 2021, Melinda Carter, MD, PhD, a biological anthropologist who had recently joined VCOM as an anatomical sciences faculty member, received a telephone call from Sergeant Alfred White, a detective for OPD who had taken over the Baby Jane Doe investigation. He shared background information about the case and explained that they were making another push to try to get the little girl identified. He hoped that having another anthropologist examine the remains might provide new information. With permission from VCOM-Auburn Dean Heath Parker, Dr. Carter assumed custody of the bones and stored them safely and securely at VCOM.

During the time that Baby Jane Doe’s remains were at VCOM, Sgt. White and OPD pursued a new technology that might help get her identified. Forensic genetic genealogy is a new investigative technique that has revolutionized solving decades-old crimes by using genetic information produced by people’s efforts to learn their family histories. In short, DNA from a victim or item of forensic significance can be traced back to ancestors whose DNA is on file, which can then lead investigators to more direct relatives, including parents and siblings. If the DNA analyzed was collected from skeletonized remains, as in Baby Jane Doe’s case, the search of missing persons’ databases is much faster if an anthropologist can provide basic biological information about the bones, including age and sex at birth. Through forensic genealogy, Sgt. White and OPD were finally able to put a name to Baby Jane Doe in December 2022: 6-year-old Amore Wiggins.

In 2022, while this genetic testing was underway, Dr. Carter had permission to share Baby Jane Doe’s story with a small group of VCOM second-year medical students to give them an awareness of suspected child abuse in the local community and learn about bone growth and physiology. Medical students of today learn osteology, the study of bones, from plastic replicas of human bones. They rarely see real human bones and, therefore, have limited exposure to variability in skeletal anatomy or how bone responds to disease or injury in a living person. Many VCOM students plan to become physicians in pediatrics, family practice, emergency medicine, psychiatry, internal medicine – all arenas where they will encounter victims of criminal behavior and domestic abuse, including physical and emotional abuse as well as neglect. Not long before Amore was positively identified, Sgt. White spoke to these VCOM students about the case, sharing his professional experience with child victimization within marginalized communities and foster care.

In early 2023, OPD announced that they had a name for the little girl and had arrested her father for allegedly contributing to her death. After speaking to Amore’s biological mother, Sherry Wiggins, who now lives in Maryland, Dr. Carter enlisted the help of VCOM’s Pediatrics Interest Group to hold a fundraiser on campus to help fund a permanent memorial for Amore in downtown Opelika. Ms. Wiggins, who lost contact with Amore before her untimely death, envisions a bench with a statue of her daughter, where people can sit with her and reflect. VCOM presented a check for $1,000 to the OPD in July.

For more information about the case, please go to If you would like to contribute to these continuing fundraising efforts, please contact Allison Duke, Community Relations Administrator for OPD, as directed at the following web site:, or attend these upcoming fundraising events (

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