Police sources now acknowledge that the girl was brutally assaulted before she escaped her captors and was found crying on a playground in nearby Upper Darby. An $80,000 reward is offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the crime.
Williams called the meeting at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, at 57th and Race Streets, to organize neighbors to help solve the case. A few dozen people sat in folding chairs, clutching neon-yellow fliers imploring them to help gather information.
Many at the meeting said they were angry about the length of time the abduction has gone unsolved, but authorities explained it was a complicated case.
"There's certain cases that come forward that just shock the conscience, and this is one of them," said Detective Kevin Gage of the Special Victims Unit, who is working on the case and was invited by Williams to talk about it.
The public's help is crucial, Gage said. "A lot of doors get closed in our faces that might not be closed to people in the audience," he said. "We need everybody's eyes, everybody's ears."
From the start, the case has stymied police. Investigators have searched the area around the school, going door to door. They have also searched the homes of several registered sex offenders who live in the neighborhood, though one police source said those searches amounted to "grasping at straws." And although police have received some tips, few of them have led anywhere.
The girl's name and photograph were widely disseminated by Amber Alert and the media when she was abducted Jan. 14. When she was found the next day, police indicated there were "no overt signs" of injury.
But in the days since the incident, The Inquirer and other media outlets have stopped using her name and image as it became clear she was the victim of a savage assault.
The department has created a task force to help members of the Special Victims Unit crack the case, Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross said in an interview. That task force includes five or six detectives from around the city, including several from the Major Crimes Unit, Ross said.
"This is an effort to keep the investigation going to the fullest extent that we can," Ross said. "Special Victims has worked very hard on this from the beginning. But we're hopeful that by adding more boots on the ground to follow up on any leads we have, we can get to whoever is responsible."
Ross acknowledged that basic questions in the case remain unanswered, such as why the girl was abducted.
"This little girl deserves every effort we can make," Ross said. "It breaks your heart to hear what she went through. We want to make sure that no other child has to go through this."
On Saturday, another community group is planning to gather at Bryant School, where the girl was kidnapped, to rally against violence against women and children in what is billed as a "flash mob for peace."
State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila), who attended Thursday night's meeting, said the goal was to "surround the family with a mother's love."
Anyone with information about the case may call police at 215-686-8477, the Special Victims Unit at 215-685-3251, or 911. E-mails may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, email@example.com or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.