PHILADELPHIA – A 19-year-old daycare worker was formally charged Friday in the abduction of a 5-year-old girl from her Philadelphia elementary school last month, an arrest aided by the little girl’s memory of a talking bird in the home where she was taken, authorities said.
Christina Regusters was charged with kidnapping, rape of a child, conspiracy, aggravated assault and other offenses and was being held on $4 million bail, District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement. She was one of four people questioned Thursday who live in a home several blocks from Bryant Elementary School in west Philadelphia. The other three were released.
Regusters worked at an after-school care program attended by the victim, who was taken out of her classroom Jan. 14 by a woman posing as her mother, according to Philadelphia police Capt. John Darby, who heads the department’s special victims unit. The woman had said she was coming to take the girl out to breakfast, according to school officials, who said school policies were not followed in releasing the child.
Investigators believe the suspect and victim then walked a few blocks to a home where a man was waiting. The child was blindfolded, told to remove her clothes and put on a black, adult-sized T-shirt, and ordered to hide under a bed, authorities said. She was apparently dumped about 18 hours later at a park about a mile from her school, just outside the city, and was found by a passer-by, shivering under playground equipment. When she was found, the girl told her rescuer, “I’ve been stolen.”
Police have since taken her to places around the neighborhood as they search for clues.
“The investigation is very much active and ongoing,” Darby said at a news conference Thursday.
Attorney Tom Kline, who represents the girl and her mother, said the child told police there was some sort of talking bird at the place where she was taken after she was abducted, information that helped lead police to the home.
“This brave, innocent precious little girl was instrumental in leading police literally to the door of the crime,” Kline said in an interview Friday. “She told them that there was a bird in the house. The bird became one of the many focal points of the investigation.”
Darby said a multicolor macaw was taken from the property during the execution of a police search warrant Thursday night.
A telephone listing for Regusters could not be located. An attorney who was representing her could not immediately be reached by the Associated Press because a telephone listing for him was temporarily disconnected. But the attorney, W. Fred Harrison Jr., told WCAU-TV that Regusters had “no involvement” in the crime.
The investigation has been unfolding since a woman wearing a black Muslim garment, her face covered by a veil, posed as the girl’s mother and took her out of class, officials said. The victim’s mother wears the traditional chador and niqab.
Kline said the girl suffered “terrible, horrible injuries” and that the family was “grateful” for the arrest, but knows it isn’t the end of the line.
“There is still more work to be done,” he said, adding that there were clearly additional people involved. “We are watching anxiously the next developments because this is not the end of the line.”