Archive for Monday, May 6, 2002

Memo: Florida agency knew of disappearance

Authorities suspect missing child may be ‘Precious Doe’

May 6, 2002

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— Florida's Department of Children and Families waited six days to tell police that it lost track of a 5-year-old girl under the state's care, according to internal memos obtained by The Miami Herald.

E-mails exchanged between caseworkers and the department's administrators in Tallahassee revealed that the agency instead used an internal procedure to try to locate Rilya Wilson, the newspaper reported Sunday.

Rilya was reported missing to police April 25 after disappearing from her caretaker's home 15 months before. The child was living with Geralyn Graham, whom department records say is Rilya's paternal grandmother.

Graham told police a woman from Children and Families took Rilya from her west Miami-Dade County home in January 2001.

The child is now feared dead because police believe a beheaded body found last year in Kansas City, Mo., may match the missing Miami girl.

Delayed reaction

Caseworkers delayed telling the police because they believed they could locate the child themselves, said LaNedra Carroll, a spokeswoman for the child welfare agency.

"They systematically looked for the child as soon as they learned she was not where she was supposed to be," Carroll said.

"It's not as if their was any indication they needed to make a 911 call right away," she said. "They have to try to take the time to figure out what happened to the child."

The first memo about Rilya's case was sent on April 19 by a caseworker, Monica Porrata. A foster care counselor, Dora Betancourt, then wrote that she "attempted to locate" Rilya and was informed that "the child does not appear in the system."

She then informed Porrata that she would "make some more contacts" on Rilya's case, the memos showed.

Rilya's caregiver, Graham, said she wrote to the agency in January to ask about the child's whereabouts.

In February, Porrata called Graham to tell her that the case had been transferred to another case worker. Two months later, Betancourt contacted Graham and began making calls at day-care centers and hospitals and inquiring about Rilya.

April 22 e-mails from the agency's adoption program administrators made suggestions on where the agency should look for the child.

Charles Auslander, Miami district chief, learned Rilya was missing on April 23. On April 24, he wrote an "urgent" e-mail to the department's Tallahassee office saying he hoped someone in Rilya's family "took the child and that the grandmother is covering up."

"This one scares me," Auslander wrote.

The e-mail prompted Tallahassee administrator Larry Pintacuda to reply, "When are you going to notify law enforcement that the child is missing?"

Kathleen Kearney, the secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, was notified of the case on April 25.

"The Secretary may become involved after 3:30 p.m.," Kearney's assistant, Susan Moss, wrote in an April 25 e-mail sent to Auslander.

Unknown origins

The girl's mother, Gloria Wilson, lost custody of the child because of a drug addiction. She has said Graham is the girl's godmother and that she met her after getting to know Graham's daughter in a drug treatment program.

Graham has told officials that her son, Kenneth Epson, is Rilya's father. Wilson denies Epson is the father and hasn't provided the name of the child's biological father.

A Termination of Parental Rights judgment against Wilson lists a Manville Cash as Rilya's father, according to the document provided to the Herald by Graham. Cash has an extensive criminal record. His telephone number was not listed in Miami-Dade County, and he could not be reached for comment.

Ed Shohat, Graham's attorney, didn't immediately return calls seeking comment Sunday.

According to the state agency's own procedures, all missing children should be reported to Florida law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children within three working days.

In Rilya's case, the state failed to complete those procedures.

"This reporting is not being done," said Ruben Betancourt, a runaway specialist with the department.

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