Abducted 7-year-old reunited with kin

Posted: June 02, 2007

The frantic search for little Andrew Rankins-Bell came to a bizarre, unexpected end yesterday when his kidnapper - his own mother - finally gave in.

In a fast-paced climax to the incident, Andrew, 7, was put on a plane in Indianapolis and flown to Philadelphia, where he met his legal guardians at International Airport about 10:30 last night and was given a new Spider-Man toy.

Then he was taken to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for what was considered a routine medical checkup. Andrew had no visible injuries.

Earlier in the day, Andrew's mother, Malekah Rankins, called her sister and her brother-in-law, Keith and Felicia Morrison, who are Andrew's legal guardians, and confessed that she had her son in Indianapolis and was planning to put him on an afternoon AirTran flight back to Philadelphia.

But the little boy never made it onto the airplane.

An Indianapolis airport spokeswoman said local police were alerted to Rankins' presence by Philadelphia police and quickly took her into custody without incident.

"The child and the mother were waiting at the [airport] gate when they were approached by the Indianapolis Police Department," said Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives.

Immediately after Rankins was arrested, Andrew was released to the care of child-welfare authorities in Indianapolis.

Once back home, Andrew was swarmed by reporters, microphones and cameras, and was asked how he felt.

"Fine," he replied.

And he was asked if he was mad at his mother for taking him out of school and to Indianapolis.

He quietly said, "No."

He was asked if he liked "Spider-Man," and he just smiled.

"He's a Spider-Man fanatic," said his aunt, Felicia Morrison.

It had been three days since Rankins, 30, snatched Andrew from the confines of his West Philly elementary school, prompting an intense manhunt that drew national media attention.

Family and police said Rankins was bi-polar, had a history of physically abusing her asthmatic son and was not taking her medication.

The FBI joined the hunt locally, but there were few clues about Rankins' whereabouts, and detectives were noticeably concerned by a lack of neighborhood tips.

Despite Rankins' violent history - the Department of Human Services had prior reports on Rankins, who reportedly had punched and choked Andrew - the Morrisons said from the start that they didn't think she would intentionally harm her son.

Still, they worried that he was abducted without his asthma medication, and they openly lambasted his school, Bluford Guion Elementary, on Media Street near 58th, for allowing Rankins to leave the school grounds with Andrew.

But the mystery ended when Rankins finally opted to pick up a phone.

"She was very upset with me," Keith Morrison said after Rankins' phone call.

"I'm grateful today because Andrew has been found and he's safe," he added. "I never allowed myself to think the worst, but this was a fearful situation."

Walker said yesterday that an affidavit of probable cause was signed and sent to the D.A's office; however, he declined to elaborate on the specific charges that Rankins might face.

Once the warrant for Rankins' arrest is signed, it may take up to 14 days for her to be extradited back to Philadelphia.

Morrison spoke on behalf of his wife, saying that all they want from this situation is for Rankins to get the help she needs.

The Morrisons have had full custody of Andrew since March.

"Andrew is 7 now and I met Malekah when she was 7," he said. "I have been in her life that long. Malekah is not my sister-in-law; she is my little sister. I have no anger towards her at all." *

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