Police are trying to figure out who abducted 5-year-old Nailla Robinson from W.C. Bryant Elementary School on Monday and how she ended up at 69th Street Athletic Field, where she was found early Tuesday morning alone, shivering and clothed only in an ankle-length adult t-shirt.
But they are glad she was discovered by 27-year-old Nelson Mandela Myers, who heard her cries at 4:40 a.m. as he was walking to work.
"We were lucky," Upper Darby Superintendent Michael Chitwood said. "We were lucky he went by and that he stopped and listened, because we live in a society today where people just keep on walking – they don't want to get involved. And he got involved."
Myers on Tuesday spoke out about the ordeal. "When I was walking past the playground, I heard a scream saying, 'help, help,'" he said. He found Robinson hiding under a slide, lifted her over the playground's gate and wrapped her in his coat.
"She only had a t-shirt on and it was wet," he said. "She didn't have [anything] else on. She was barefooted, she was shivering – it was a crazy moment." He said the girl was dirty, disheveled and had a fresh cut on her lip, but none on her feet, which made him believe she was dumped there.
"There's no way that child got into that playground," Chitwood agreed. "She had to be placed in that playground."
Myers said Robinson reminded him of his own daughter, who is also 5. "It didn't surprise me when I heard that my husband had done something so courageous and heroic because our children are adopted," his' wife Janie said. The couple has taken in two young children from the state foster care system and are in the process of adopting a third.
"I think that there was no other person supposed to be there at that time finding that child than my husband," she said. "If there was someone else, who knows where she could have been?"
Police said a woman whose face was obscured by black Muslim-style clothing took Robinson shortly before 9 a.m, but her family didn't realize she was gone until dismissal time.
"She said she took her to a house and there was a male in the house," Upper Darby police superintendent Michael Chitwood said. "They took her clothes off and blindfolded her." The child is being screened for signs of sexual assault.
"At this point, we believe the female who entered that school was a total stranger," Capt. John Darby said, adding that doesn't mean the woman was unknown to the child's family.
"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 by name."
The School District observes the following policy when it comes to adults picking up students:
– Adults are first required go to the school administrator's office and show government-issued photo identification.
– The ID must be checked against the student's file to make sure that adult is authorized to pick up the child.
– Administrators then call the classroom and ask for the child to be escorted to the office.
– The adult can leave the building with the child after the administrator briefly observes their interaction to make sure nothing seems out of the ordinary.
But School District spokesman Fernando Gallard said 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," Gallard 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 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."