At the bottom of her test paper, the student had written an unnerving postscript: "I hate life. I hate everybody. I want to die."
Officials at Forest Park High School saw the message and reported the incident to the child abuse investigative unit of the Baltimore police youth section. Detective Agent Lynette D. Nevins got the case and interviewed the 17-year-old senior.
What Nevins found was even more unsettling.
The detective learned the girl, the youngest of three daughters in a northwest Baltimore family, had routinely been sexually abused by her father for at least three years and had at least one abortion as a result of their relationship.
Nevins also learned that the girl's two sisters -- ages 19 and 21 -- had also been sexually abused by their father, possibly for several years before the interview with the younger sister.
"She was a bright kid, a sensitive kid who just couldn't take it anymore," said Nevins, a member of the police youth section since 1987. "She wanted to reach out at that point. She just had to reach out."
Nevins launched an investigation which uncovered that the girl's mother had an active role in the ongoing sex abuse -- and often took her youngest daughter to her father's bed for sexual relations.
For her investigation in this and work with dozens of other juvenile sex abuse cases, Nevins today was named The Evening Sun's Police Officer of the Year for law enforcement.
Nevins, 35, and Anne Arundel County Officer Brandon McFayden, winner of the award for community service, each received $1,000 and a plaque today during an awards ceremony at the Sheraton Towson Hotel.
In the Forest Park High case, Nevins learned from all three sisters that they were required to have sexual relations with their father. The incestuous relationship with the older girls produced a combined nine abortions, each arranged by their mother.
As a result of the investigation, Nevins obtained signed confessions, letters of apology and guilty pleas to sexual abuse from both parents. The mother was sentenced to a 15-year prison term, the father to 30 years.
In the case, Nevins said, none of the sisters knew the others were being sexually abused. But, after the older sisters learned of the youngest sister's abuse, "she [the younger girl] had their full support."
"This was hard on them because they had nowhere or no one to go to," Nevins said. "Also, their mother was taking them into the bedroom."
The case was one of 114 child abuse and sex offense cases Nevins solved, out of the 125 cases assigned to her last year. Of the solved cases, 35 were cleared by arrest.
Nevins said getting a confession from a suspect is often crucial ++ to a conviction.
"Unless you get a confession, it's hard because the kids don't always testify [because of their age]," she said. "Pedophiles are the toughest to get a confession out of because they're very manipulative. They're often very intelligent."
"It is more emotionally challenging than anything else. In patrol, you can leave things behind. In this area, it nags at you. You wake up thinking, 'How can I solve this case?' "
Nevins said many of the juvenile victims in her cases are too embarrassed or ashamed to provide details. And, if they do, they are often left with nowhere to go.
"They are just scared and upset about what has happened," she said.
Her approach to getting information is to try to develop a rapport with the victims.
"We come in plain clothes, not in police clothes or a police car," Nevins said. "We make them feel comfortable. It's just showing that you care and that you believe them."
Sgt. Susan Young, also of the youth division, said Nevins always puts the victims at ease.
"She is very soft-spoken and sympathetic towards them. She is able to talk to them in a way that they feel comfortable," Young said.
Nevins said that most often, children will not make up stories about sexual abuse. She said only 2 percent of the sex abuse incidents reported by children are not true.
"Physical abuse they might make up, not sexual abuse," she said.
Last spring, Nevins investigated a case involving a multiple-offender pedophile who operated a juvenile alcohol and drug rehabilitation center.
The suspect, in his mid-50s, would initially take boys from the center to his home and offer them money to clean the house, Nevins said. Once he gained the boys' confidence, he would begin to fondle them as a preliminary to other sexual acts.
The abuse would widen as the man enticed the boys to provide other members of the center -- both boys and girls -- to become involved. All of the youths were paid for their services.
Nevins said the investigation was difficult because all of the youths denied participation with the suspect. "But I knew in my heart it had happened," Nevins said.
The investigation lasted three months but culminated in a guilty plea. The man was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.
At the sentencing, Nevins said, she felt almost equal pity for the ++ perpetrator and the victims.
"You just can't help feeling for the suspect because they are often the adult victims of [childhood] abuse," she said. "If we can stop abuse now, 20 years down the road we can put a dent in the problem. Kids are just carrying that anger into adulthood."