PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A child-care worker accused of disguising herself in traditional Muslim clothing to abduct a 5-year-old girl was arraigned on Friday on rape and kidnapping charges and held on $4 million bail.
Seized as a key piece of evidence in the case was a multi-colored macaw that the child told authorities lived in the home where she had been held captive overnight last month, police and the victim’s lawyer, Tom Kline, said.
Authorities have questioned four people in the case but so far charged only Christina Regusters, 19, who worked at an after-school program in West Philadelphia that the victim attended.
Regusters was accused of posing as the girl’s mother, who wears Muslim clothing, by dressing in a black headscarf that covered her face in order to take the child out of school on January 14.
Early the next morning, the child was discovered in a nearby playground, partially clothed.
Regusters was arraigned on Friday on 14 criminal counts, including rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping and indecent assault.
“It’s just a horrible, horrible crime, what they did to her,” Kline said.
The talking bird, seized with a search warrant, was being held by the city’s animal control division, said Captain John Darby, head of the police Special Victims Unit.
Kline declined to confirm local media reports that the assailants used the bird to force the child into silence and submission and threatened it would peck out her eyes if she disobeyed. He said information about the bird led to Regusters’ arrest.
“It was the fact that the bird was present that was significant, not any particular thing the bird said,” Kline said.
Neither Kline nor Darby would provide details of the rape charge against Regusters.
Darby said originally three other occupants of the West Philadelphia house were taken into custody as well, an adult man and woman, and a male juvenile. They have since been released.
“The investigation is still very active,” said Darby, who declined to describe a motive.
After her arraignment, Regusters was held on $4 million bail and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for March 6, the office of the Philadelphia district attorney said.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Andrew Hay