A 5-year-old girl who yesterday went missing after an unknown person took her from her West Philadelphia school has been located safely in Upper Darby.
Police said Nailla Robinson was taken from the Bryant School at 6001 Cedar Avenue shortly before 9 a.m. yesterday by an unknown woman wearing black Muslim-style clothing that covered her face.
Her family apparently did not realize that she was taken until a caretaker from an after-school program came to pick her up at dismissal time.
Pennsylvania State Police last night issued an Amber Alert for Robinson, and Mayor Michael Nutter announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to her safe return.
Robinson was found alone and shivering at the 69th Street Athletic Field around 4:40 this morning by 27-year-old Nelson Mandela Myers, who was walking to the 69th Street Terminal on his way to work, Upper Darby police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said.
"He heard what he thought was a small
child crying out for help," Chitwood said. "He looked in the playground area where there's
a jungle gym and saw what he thought was a little girl hiding. She ran up
to him. She was saying she needed help, she was cold and she had to go to
Chitwood said Myers found the girl clothed only in a wet, adult-sized t-shirt. "He held onto her,
wrapped his coat around her and called 911," he said. "Police arrived and it was
ascertained that she was the little girl that was abducted from the school
yesterday in Southwest Philly."
Robinson was taken to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for a medical evaluation and Myers was sent to Philadelphia Police Department's Special Victims Unit to be interviewed.
"Basically he says that when [Robinson] came running up to him, he asked what
happened to her, where were her clothes, and she said that she ran away from the
people that took her," Chitwood said.
He said the child told police that the woman who took her out of school had a male companion. "She said she took her to a house and there was a male in the house," Chitwood said. "They took her
clothes off and blindfolded her."
It is unclear exactly what happened in that house, or what motivated the abductors. Investigators said that the child does not appear to have suffered any overt physical injuries, but they are still looking into the possibility of sexual assault.
Philadelphia police have remained mostly tight-lipped due to the victim's age and to the fact that the investigation is "very much alive," according to Special Victims Unit Capt. John Darby.
"Once we have information, obviously we'll be acting on that information to identify and locate the suspects," Darby said. "But at this point, we believe the female who entered that school was a total stranger."
Darby said that police have good reason to believe that, despite the
fact that the suspect was unknown to the child, the incident was not
random. "Quite frankly, as the scenario advances, it seems it was not
random, but that the child was targeted," he said. "The woman in the
school knew exactly where to go, who to see and she asked for the child
He said that the woman apparently did not provide school authorities with identification, but deferred to the School District for further questions about possible breakdowns in protocol. "To my knowledge, she did not show identification, but she did inscribe her name on a clipboard or sign-in sheet," he said. "Her identity couldn't be ascertained from that."
Philadelphia School District Fernando Gallard said that adults picking up children are required to go to the school administrator's office and show government-issued photo identification, which is checked against the student's file to make sure that adult is authorized to remove the child.
"Once it is determined the child should be released to this person, the office calls the classroom and asks the child to be escorted down to the administrator's office," he said. "The administrator is to see the interaction between the adult and child and make sure that looks correct. The adult can then leave the building with the student."
But he said, in this case, the abductor apparently bypassed the administrator's office by signing her name on a log-in sheet at the front desk, then proceeding directly to the child's classroom.
"A very crucial point here is that no student should be released from the classroom and that's what occurred here," he said. "So if the adult is able to bypass the front office, every teacher and staff member in the building should know that the only way to release a student to an adult is by following that protocol."
He said that the School District is reaching out to each of its employees to re-emphasize the steps that must be taken before a child can be released and the importance of adhering those steps. "We believe the protocol we have in place works and it works well," he said. "But it only works when adults are following it and when staff members are working together to make sure procedures and protocol are being adhered to."
Investigators said they have received full
cooperation from the School District. They are now processing physical evidence from several scenes and
reviewing surveillance video.
Darby said the offenders never made contact with the child's parents regarding a ransom or any other demands, but that police are investigating whether the suspect was known to them. "The investigation continues surrounding anyone who might have had contact with the parents," Darby said.
He said police are focused on the immediate area surrounding the school because the abductor did not, to his knowledge, flee in a vehicle, but that the fact that the girl was transported through multiple neighborhoods and counties gives investigators a large area to canvass.
"You have a very broad area to search for surveillance video, witnesses – anything," he said. "The investigation could take several turns here and has already."
Anyone with information about the abduction or the suspects is asked to contact the Special Victims Unit at 215-685-3251, to call 911, or to submit an anonymous tip by dialing 215-686-TIPS (8477), texting PPD TIPS (773 8477), emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by filling out this online form.