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July 24, 2014, 1:20 pm

Questions linger in child's abduction

  • Written by Larry Miller and Damon C. Williams
  • Published in News Headlines

The investigation into the abduction of five-year-old girl from her West Philadelphia elementary school continues — and so far police have more questions that they have answers — but the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 has offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest, and the Citizen’s Crime Commission has offered $5,000 for the arrest and conviction of the suspects in the case, which is being aggressively investigated.

Who was the person who walked into Bryant Elementary School at 60th Street and Cedar Avenue on the morning of January 14 and walked out with little Na’illa Robinson? She identified herself as the girl’s mother, but could have been anyone — maybe not even a woman — since several crimes have been committed in Philadelphia where the perpetrators wore female Muslim garb to hide their identities.

What was the motivation for the abduction? Where was the child taken and why was her clothing removed? Did she manage to escape on her own, or did the abductors get cold feet and dump her on a cold wet playground in the middle of the night where Good Samaritan Nelson Mandela Myers found her? What about the Philadelphia School District personnel whose antenna should have gone up when the abductor came for the girl? Why didn’t they act to prevent the abduction — and why didn’t they follow their own School District security protocols?

One thing police are sure of — this was not a random kidnapping.

“Whoever the suspect is, they went to her classroom and asked for her by name,” said Upper Darby Police Superintendant Mike Chitwood. “The suspect didn’t show any identification, but she signed in as ‘Tiffany’ and said she was going to get her niece and told school officials she was taking her to breakfast. We believe the suspect is a Black female in her twenties. She is about 5 feet, 5 inches tall and as we all know, she was wearing female Muslim garb.”

Capt. John Darby of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Victims Unit said investigators have been making headway and they have descriptions of two suspects connected to the case, a male and female. The woman who was dressed in female Muslim garb picked Na’illa up from school around 8:50 a.m. and then walked several blocks to a house. She is described as being about 5 feet 5 inches tall with greenish eyes. She had a thin build and dark skin and identified herself to the victim by the name Rashida. It’s also possible that she may be pregnant. The male suspect was inside the house, and Nailla was tied up and blindfolded. Her abductors apparently fed her. Police have been canvassing the neighborhood, from 56th Street to Cobbs Creek Parkway and along Spruce Street down to Christian Street. The male suspect is described as having a light complexion and in his mid 30’s. He has short brown hair and was wearing sweatpants and a light blue T-shirt. 

Chitwood said the girl was taken from her school at approximately 8:50 a.m. and about an hour later she was reported missing. Philadelphia School District officials are concerned with the ease with which the suspect managed to take the girl

“We are very concerned that an adult was able to walk into a school, and then have a student released to them, without the appropriate protocols taking place,” said School District spokesman Fernando Gallard. “It resulted in a student walking away with an unknown individual, which puts students lives in danger. It is very disconcerting that it occurred; we are doing the utmost to make sure the procedures and policies are in place are reinforced, and to talk to every adult in the system so they know what is expected of them.”

Gaillard said that School District protocols are very specific, clear and simple. For someone to request a student to be released, they have to go to the administration office, identify themselves, show state issued ID; then an administrator has to view the file for the student to see if that person has the right to have the student released to them. He said any disciplinary actions taken against district personnel would be contingent on the facts once they become clear.

“At that point, the administrator calls the class, requests the student to be escorted to the administration office, and the student is released from the administration office. Administrators then have to look at interaction between student and adult, to make sure there’s a proper recognition of who the person is. You never know what occurs overnight in a household, something might have changed. Never are you supposed to walk to class, say ‘hello,’ and then have the teacher release students. People who are not staff members cannot freely walk in a building and access classrooms. That is not procedure. We always review protocols in situations where something like this occurs. The number one step is to underline to everyone that they must follow the protocols in place. In regard to any disciplinary action, we will wait until the facts are known, but will act quickly at that point. We will let the facts led us there.”

The victim’s grandfather, Imam Asim Abdul-Rashid of the Masjid of the Delaware Valley, said he and the local Islamic leadership have continually addressed the issue of criminals using Muslim attire to commit crimes.

“It was a woman who was dressed in Islamic attire that went to the school, pretended to be the child’s mother and took the kid out of school,” said Abdul-Rashid, speaking via cell phone from police headquarters just hours after his granddaughter had been found. “This is a town full of Muslim women, so we can’t say that this is the particular reason for [criminals] to dress like that is to commit crimes, because there are sincere Muslim women who cover themselves in Islamic manner.”

Abdul-Rashid said the Masjid of the Delaware Valley has offered at $20,000 reward for the capture and conviction of anyone who dresses in Muslim garb to commit a crime. Abdul-Rashid also confirmed that the women among his membership are keenly aware of their rights - and when a Muslim woman can and cannot reveal her face.

“Criminals apparently wear it to commit a crime without being identified, but we’ve already addressed that a Muslim woman should be properly identified while being dressed in that fashion,” Abdul-Rashid said. “There is no reason why a Muslim woman cannot expose her face for identification purposes. They know and are taught that.”

Aside from keeping a wary eye on miscreants masquerading as Muslims, Abdul-Rashid said the abduction of his granddaughter should lead to another dreadful realization - that a child predator is still at large.

“The community, West Philly in particular, should be alerted that there’s a child predator in the community. This is a case where the school was negligent in their procedures,” Abdul-Rashid said. “The police need to respond appropriately so the perpetrators of this crime can be caught, and do so aggressively. The information has to get out to the community that a child predator is on the loose.”

Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross said he can’t even get his mind around the fact that someone would commit such a heinous act against a child. He said he’s also concerned by the fact that the School District personnel on duty didn’t react.

“Based on the district’s protocols, it should have triggered something,” Ross said. “Right now, there are still a lot of questions in this bizarre case. The mere fact that you have a 5-year-old girl who was terrorized, who somehow ended up alone in the middle of an open field in the dead of winter is extremely disturbing. Whoever did this to her needs to be punished, and to the fullest extent of the law. We’re all just relieved that she was found and that she’s safe. Statistically speaking, this isn’t how most cases like this end.”

To submit a phone tip call 215.686.TIPS (8477) or text a tip to PPD TIP or 773847.