Tuesday, August 26
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 5-year-old girl abducted from her Philadelphia classroom suffered severe physical injuries from a sexual assault that required surgery, a doctor testified Tuesday.
Former day care worker Christina Regusters, 21, is the only person charged in the case, although her lawyer before trial suggested that others were involved.
The child was blindfolded during the 19-hour ordeal and believes that a man assaulted her. However, prosecutors said Regusters merely told her that, and sodomized the girl herself with an unknown object.
"She was in a significant amount of pain," said Dr. Cindy Christian, a child sexual-assault expert at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who treated the girl later that week. She was found on a playground the morning after she went missing, clad in only a T-shirt on the cold January day. The T-shirt contained Regusters' DNA, according to prosecutors.
The victim, now 7, is expected to testify this week. Much of Tuesday's testimony focused on the unfolding realization at the school's 3 p.m. dismissal that the kindergartner was missing. A substitute teacher had allowed her to leave at about 8:45 a.m. with a woman posing as the girl's mother.
"It was just chaos because nobody knew what to say," after-care teacher Sherrell Carter testified.
Carter worked at a child care center a block away, and had gone to Bryant Elementary School to pick up the girl and several other charges. At first, she found school officials "nonchalant" about the missing child.
"Nobody seemed to care," Carter said. "The assumption was she's just somewhere in (the building)."
She ran through the school crying out the girl's name, and then called the girl's mother, she said. The mother had dropped the girl and her older brother off that morning, minutes before the impostor lured her from the classroom, a school security videotape showed.
Bryant, located in a low-income neighborhood in west Philadelphia, had two visitor checkpoints inside, and a policy to check parent identification and only dismiss children from the front office. The abductor, wearing a long Muslim dress and face-covering veil like the attire worn by the girl's mother, scrawled a name in the visitor log, then brushed off the substitute teacher's request to sign the child out of her kindergarten classroom, according to testimony.
"It's brazen, isn't it? Who does that?" defense lawyer W. Fred Harrison Jr. said in openings Monday, suggesting the answer was not his client.
The girl's family has a civil lawsuit filed against the city. The city's bid for immunity is pending before a federal judge.
Regusters had worked with Carter at the child care center for about a year, but had only limited interaction there with the victim. The owner said Regusters was good with children, but was suspended on the day of the crime because of chronic lateness.