by Patrick Walters
Associated Press Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 5-year-old girl who was abducted from a school by a woman claiming to be her mother was found by a passer-by at a playground early Tuesday and told him, “I’ve been stolen,” authorities said.
When found by a man walking down the street in Upper Darby around 4:40 a.m., the girl was hiding under a piece of playground equipment in a park and wearing only a T-shirt, said Capt. John Darby, of the Philadelphia police department.
She was taken to the hospital to be checked out, but police said she did not appear to be hurt. Darby said officials are screening the girl to determine if she may have been sexually assaulted.
“There were no overt signs of physical injuries to the child,” Darby said at a news conference, adding that police have had only preliminary interviews with the girl. “We have a fragile victim here.”
The girl was taken Monday morning from the William C. Bryant School, in west Philadelphia. Authorities released surveillance video showing a woman wearing a full-length, black Muslim garment, her face covered by a black veil, taking the girl out of the school. School policies were apparently not followed, according to district officials, as the woman got the girl straight from her classroom after signing in at the front door — without reporting first to the main office.
Her mother had appeared on local media Monday night, tearfully pleading for her safe return, and explaining how she also wears the traditional chador and niqab.
The Associated Press is not naming her because it generally doesn’t identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
Darby said the suspect went into the school Monday a short time after the girl’s mother had dropped her off there. The woman signed in with a hall monitor and then went straight to the girl’s classroom. “She indicated that she was the child’s mother,” Darby said. “And that she was going to take the child to breakfast.”
The suspect apparently knew and targeted the girl, Darby said, but the girl did not know her. However, she appeared to go willingly.
Police are looking for the suspect and trying to track down more information. Upper Darby police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said it appears the girl was driven or walked to the playground. Investigators are trying to track down surveillance footage from the area.
“We believe that the little girl was dumped here,” Chitwood said.
Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the school district, said the district is investigating. The woman signed in at the door, but headed straight to the girl’s classroom and did not stop at the office first, Gallard said.
“She said she was there to pick up her daughter,” he said, adding that it appears the child went willingly. “She took the child and walked out of the school.”
Under the school’s policy, he said, the woman should have signed in at the door and then gone straight to the office — not the classroom. “The exchange does not happen at the classroom level,” he said.
The district is investigating the incident and reviewing its policies with school employees, Gallard said.
In a different incident at the same school, three 10- and 11-year-old boys were charged in November 2011 after reportedly sexually assaulting another boy in the restroom.
Associated Press writer Kathy Matheson contributed to this story.