Where's Nelson Mandela's money?

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Nelson Mandela Myers and his wife, Janie Myers, are in the final stages of adopting Gary, 3, and Machia, 5. Nelson told his wife the reward "could really save our lives."
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Nelson Mandela Myers and his wife, Janie Myers, are in the final stages of adopting Gary, 3, and Machia, 5. Nelson told his wife the reward "could really save our lives."
Posted: April 05, 2013

ON JAN. 14, Janie Myers said a prayer.

"I said, 'God, we really need a miracle. I don't know where money is going to come from but we need help,' " she said.

At 4:40 a.m. the next morning, Myers' husband, Nelson Mandela Myers, answered the prayers of an entire city when he found a 5-year-old girl who had been abducted from her West Philadelphia school the preceding day.

Nelson wrapped his coat around the child, whom he found shivering in an Upper Darby park, and stayed with her until police arrived.

He was hailed as a hero and was promised a $10,000 reward from the city.

"Mayor @Michael_Nutter, full $10,000 reward to Nelson Mandela Myers, who saw [the girl] in an Upper Darby park and did the right thing," Mark McDonald, Nutter's spokesman, Tweeted that day.

Janie Myers thought her prayers had been answered, too.

"Twenty-four hours before that I was crying and praying to God," she said. "Honestly, that $10,000 was literally a blessing that fell out of the sky for us."

Nearly three months later, Nelson and Janie Myers have yet to see a penny of the reward money, and the young couple say their calls and emails to city officials have gone unanswered.

"We're up to our necks in bills," Nelson said. "It's a blessing that they're giving me the money, but I just really can't explain why we haven't gotten it yet."

On Jan. 14, a woman dressed head to toe in Muslim clothing walked into Bryant Elementary School in West Philadelphia and abducted a 5-year-girl from her classroom.

While walking to work the next morning, Nelson discovered the girl, dressed only in a T-shirt, in an Upper Darby playground. He called 9-1-1.

Authorities would later learn that the child had been taken to a house in West Philadelphia, where police say she was held captive and sexually assaulted before being dropped off alone in the playground.

On Feb. 14, police arrested Christina Regusters, 19, who worked at an after-school program where the girl was enrolled, and charged her with kidnapping, rape and related offenses. The investigation into any alleged conspirators is ongoing.

In the meantime, not much has changed since Nelson was hailed as a hero.

The couple still can't afford a car and, since January, they've had to give up their cellphones and other luxuries so they can pay more important bills and take care of their foster children, Gary, 3, and Machia, 5, whom they are in the final stages of adopting.

Nelson, 27, works six days a week as a sanitation worker in Norristown, sometimes pulling 10 to 12 hours a shift.

"He takes it all with pride. He says that's what a husband and a dad does. He goes to work and provides for his family," Janie said.

Nelson leaves his house about 4 a.m. most days and still walks past the same park where he found the little girl in January.

"Every time I look at that park, I think of that morning," he said.

Janie, 25, gave up her jewelry company several years ago, when the couple became foster parents. She'd like to go back to work, but the cost of child care is prohibitive, she said.

Nelson's job is the family's sole income and Janie said they receive no government aid.

So, for the couple, the reward was an unforeseen windfall, even though Nelson said he never expected to receive a reward for doing the right thing.

"But, as soon as they said they were giving me a reward I said, 'Well, I can deal with that,' " he said. "I could use that right now."

Janie said that although city officials told the media and trumpeted on social media that her husband would get the reward, no one ever spoke directly to them about it.

After a few weeks, Janie began emailing and calling the Mayor's Office, but she said each time her calls were sent to voicemail and her emails weren't returned. "They kind of gave us the runaround," she said.

On Feb. 7, the Myers family was invited to City Hall, where City Council recognized Nelson with a citation honoring his "acts of kindness and community involvement."

At the ceremony, Nelson said he remembers Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood, who knew the couple hadn't yet received their reward, asking Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell about it.

"Jannie Blackwell then whispered in my ear. 'We're going to get to the bottom of why we didn't get you the money yet,' " Nelson said. "She said we should have gotten it by now, and we never heard from her either."

Blackwell said Thursday that she was shocked the couple hadn't received the money. She said she told Nelson by phone to contact the Police Commissioner's Office to collect his reward and just assumed that he had already received it. Blackwell couldn't explain why she told Nelson he should go to the Commissioner's Office to collect reward money that was offered by the Mayor's Office. Nelson and Janie Myers said that call never happened.

"Everybody agreed he should get the money, everybody agreed on the amount. I am absolutely sorry that he didn't," Blackwell said. "I'll make sure we get it straightened out. I'm very, very sorry."

Janie Myers said her husband is "a humble guy" and doesn't speak of that day or the reward money much, but this week, as they pored over bills, he became overwhelmed.

"Last night, we were sitting down and talking about our finances and he said, 'That $10,000 could really save our lives right now,' " Janie Myers said. "I felt helpless because Nelson is such a strong guy . . . to see him at such a vulnerable point and I couldn't help him, that was so tough."

Nelson remains optimistic.

"I'm just hoping, trying to be patient. I know they put it in the newspaper, so it has to come," he said. "If you said you was going to give it to me, let it be the truth."

McDonald responded to requests for comment from the Mayor's Office on Thursday in a short email that read:

"The Mayor's Office has approved the reward payment of $10,000 to Mr. Myers. We're in the process of sending out the check."

Twitter: @FarFarrAway

Blog: PhillyConfidential.com

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