Witnesses: Panic at school when staff realized 5-year-old kidnapped

Christina Regusters, 21, on trial in the sexual assault of a girl, 5.
Christina Regusters, 21, on trial in the sexual assault of a girl, 5. (Philadelphia Police Department)
Posted: August 27, 2014

Panic gripped a West Philadelphia elementary school on the afternoon of Jan. 14, 2013, after staff learned a 5-year-old girl was missing, witnesses told a jury Monday.

"It was a chaotic atmosphere, no one knew what was going on, the young lady was missing and everybody was just pointing fingers at each other," testified Philadelphia Police Officer Floyd Jackson.

"Confused, scared," said Sharon Lites, a teacher's assistant in the Headstart program at Bryant School. "Nobody knew what happened to this little girl."

Six prosecution witnesses testified on the first day of the trial of Christina Regusters, 21, charged with kidnapping the girl from her Bryant kindergarten classroom and then sexually assaulting her.

Assistant District Attorneys Erin O'Brien and Jessalyn Gillum allege that Regusters, dressed in Muslim attire that covered all but her eyes, took the 5-year-old girl from her class about 8:50 a.m.

Regusters' attorney, W. Fred Harrison Jr., told the Common Pleas Court jury that the girl could have been sexually assaulted by any of several relatives who lived with Regusters in a house in the 6200 block of Walton Avenue.

Harrison said Regusters had been sexually assaulted by her own father in 2005 and was raped in August 2012, an assault she did not report to police.

The portrait that emerged from Monday's testimony was of an understaffed public school where district visitor policies were not followed.

Lisa Jones, who worked in the Bryant office, testified how the woman came into the school that morning and had to be told to sign the school register.

Jones, however, said she could not identify the woman's signature but did not ask for identification.

Although district policy required school staff to check IDs of anyone coming into the building, Jones testified that the practice at Bryant at the time was not to check IDs.

When Harrison asked why the policy was not followed, Jones replied, "There was no particular reason."

Reginald Littlejohn, a former special education teacher then in his eighth day as a substitute teacher in the girl's kindergarten class, testified that the woman in Muslim garb appeared with the child at his desk and said the child would leave school as soon as she finished breakfast.

Littlejohn said the girl left with the woman without apparent fear or reluctance.

When Gillum asked why Littlejohn did not verify the woman's story with the school office, he said everything seemed normal: "I didn't see the need."

Jackson, the police officer, said he was called at 3:38 p.m. about a pupil missing from the school at 6001 Cedar Ave.

As the school day was ending, he said, an employee of Heaven's Little Angels, an after-school program the girl attended a block away on South 60th Street, arrived to pick her up. Bryant staff realized she had been taken.

Nineteen hours later, a pedestrian walking to work at a park in nearby Upper Darby heard a child calling for help and discovered the girl under a sliding board.

Though the girl had been anally and vaginally raped with an object and needed surgery to repair injuries, she helped police retrace her kidnapper's steps, recognizing the Walton Avenue house where she said she was held.

O'Brien told the jury that the evidence - the victim's testimony, surveillance video of the abduction, Regusters' DNA on the victim's shirt and Internet searches about child sex assaults on Regusters' personal computer - all point to the former Silver Spring, Md., woman as the one who kidnapped and assaulted the girl.

"Why? Why would a 19-year-old female do this?" O'Brien asked the jury. "That may be the unanswered question."


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

www.inquirer.com/crimeandpunishment

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