Police search for woman who snatched girl from elementary school

Posted on: 5:08 pm, January 16, 2013, by , updated on: 05:10pm, January 16, 2013

By Sarah Hoye, CNN

PHILADELPHIA (CNN) — Philadelphia police are still searching for the woman who they say abducted a 5-year-old girl from her elementary school on Monday by posing as the girl’s mother, dressed in a Muslim-style head covering.

The suspect, who police say may be pregnant and may go by the name “Rashida,” took the girl to a nearby house where a male suspect waited.

Once inside the home, authorities say, the girl was told to remove her clothing and was given a black T-shirt to wear. She was blindfolded and forced to hide under a bed, they said. She was fed at some point.

“This was an egregious crime, and the community should be outraged,” Capt. John Darby, commanding officer of special victims, said at a news conference Wednesday. “This was not a random act as far as we’re concerned.”

A man on his way to work early Tuesday found the girl wearing only the black T-shirt and crying under a slide at a playground, police said. She has since returned home with her mother, and there are “no overt” signs of injury, Darby said.

Police are searching door to door in the neighborhood near the school for the two suspects.

The ordeal began when the woman wearing a head covering with only her eyes exposed came to Bryant Elementary School shortly after classes started Monday and scribbled her name on a sign-in sheet, police said.

She did not show identification but said she was the child’s mother and wanted to take her out for breakfast, Darby said. She then proceeded to the child’s classroom and asked for the girl by name.

Neither parent had given permission for the child to be taken out of school, Darby said, adding that the female suspect “knew exactly what to do.”

The abduction has raised questions about the School District of Philadelphia’s protocol.

“It’s disturbing that an adult is able to walk into a classroom and have the teacher release the child without knowing who the adult is,” said Fernando Gallard, a school district spokesman.

Policy requires anyone signing out a student to go to the main office and provide identification that matches a list of approved individuals, he said.

As he headed to work early Tuesday, sanitation employee Nelson Myers said he heard what he said sounded like a cat meowing before realizing it was an abandoned girl.

“When I got closer, it sounded clear: ‘Help, help,’” Myers said at a news conference Tuesday.

“When I saw her under the slide, I was shocked,” he said. “She was there by herself and only had a shirt on.”

Myers will receive a $10,000 reward offered by the city, Mayor Michael Nutter announced via Twitter.

“Mayor @Michael_Nutter, full $10,000 reward to Nelson Mandela Myers, who saw (the girl) in an Upper Darby park and did the right thing,” Mark McDonald, the mayor’s spokesman, tweeted Tuesday.

“I am just glad I was there at the right time, because I just wish somebody would do that for my child if my own child was in that situation,” Myers said.

Now, police are hoping the public will help identify the suspects behind the girl’s abduction. They are offering two rewards in connection with the case: $5,000 from the Fraternal Order of Police for the arrest of one or both offenders; and $5,000 from the Citizens Crime Commission for the arrest and conviction of one or both offenders, authorities said.

Police describe the female suspect as a dark-skinned black woman in her late 20s, 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 8 inches tall with a thin build, and possibly pregnant.

Police say the male suspect is a light-skinned male, in his mid-30s, with short brown hair, wearing sweatpants and a blue, long-sleeved t-shirt.