Kidnap victim, now 7, tells hushed courtroom of her ordeal

Posted: August 29, 2014

For 40 minutes Wednesday, a Philadelphia courtroom packed with adults was dead silent, straining to hear the thin voice of a 7-year-old girl struggling to recall details of a horror her mind took 19 months to bury.

She was abducted Jan. 14, 2013, from a West Philadelphia kindergarten class, and was in court to testify in the trial of Christina Regusters, the 21-year-old former day-care worker who allegedly took the girl, kept her blindfolded under a bed for a day, and sexually assaulted her before abandoning the half-naked child on a cold Upper Darby playground.

Trial witnesses testified that Regusters worked at a nearby after-school program that the girl and her siblings attended.

There was no dramatic courtroom confrontation. The girl said that when she wasn't blindfolded, her abductor was covered in Muslim attire. The diminutive witness never once looked at the young woman at the defense table furiously scribbling and sorting papers.

Regusters stole one sideways glance at the girl - dressed in pink sweater, black top, and green skirt - as she strode to the witness stand behind a towering court officer.

For much of the child's time on the stand, Assistant District Attorney Erin O'Brien, seated beside her, worked to elicit details the child either did not remember or did not want to.

"Did anything bad happen?" asked O'Brien.

"I don't remember, I just don't remember," the girl replied, tilting back her head to speak into the microphone.

"Were you hurt?" asked the prosecutor.

"Yes," the child replied, though she said she could not remember where.

"I just remember hurting," the girl added.

At the end of O'Brien's questioning, she told the girl that she was through but that defense attorney W. Fred Harrison Jr. would be questioning her next.

"No, he's not," Harrison interjected. "Done."

The child's sparse words had been preceded Wednesday by testimony from her mother, who narrated a 25-minute audio recording of the girl in mid-January 2013 when she was at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for surgery to repair physical damage from the sexual assault.

If not for the subject matter, the audio sounded like an intimate conversation between a loving mother and her 5-year-old girl: giggles, some tears, baby talk, the words of a child discovering the English language.

At the time of the recording, Regusters had not been arrested, and the victim's mother testified that she was trying to tease out clues to help police find the woman who had abducted the girl from Bryant School at 6001 Cedar Ave.

The girl's mother - The Inquirer is not identifying her to protect the identity of the victim - spent the morning telling the Common Pleas Court jury of eight women and four men about the terror of her daughter's kidnapping and painful recovery.

"How are you today?" O'Brien asked the 40-year-old mother of five.

The woman seemed to sag in the witness chair and paused for several seconds.

"I mean, I want to regain normal lives, and in my kids' lives, but it's hard, because we moved a few times, in and out of school a couple of times," she testified.

"I'd rather kind of be in the background," she added, her voice trailing off.

On the audio recording, the girl described three people involved in her abduction and assault: Rashida, the woman who took her from school; China, a teenager who cared for her in the house to which she was taken; and "the man," who sexually assaulted her with "a needle."

Prosecutors, however, say there was only one person - Regusters - who disguised herself in Muslim attire to kidnap the girl; doffed the garb and used her sometime nickname in direct encounters with the child; and conjured "the man," whom the child said she never saw in person.

The girl said she was tightly blindfolded during the sexual assaults and told her mother her abductor showed her only a cellphone photo of a "white man who looked like Jesse from Full House," the television sitcom role played by John Stamos.

O'Brien has described the three individuals as Regusters' creations to "terrorize and confuse a child," and, near the end of her testimony, the girl seemed to have arrived at the same conclusion.

"Do you think that maybe the girl and the lady were the same person?"

"Yes," the child replied.

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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