PHILADELPHIA — A young girl abducted from her kindergarten classroom and sexually brutalized in a 19-hour ordeal recalled bits of the crime for a jury Wednesday, but said she couldn't remember many of the details.
Prosecutors believe that a 19-year-old day care worker with an interest in child sexual torture donned a Muslim dress and veil to pose as the girl's mother and lure her from the west Philadelphia public school in January 2013. Christina Regusters, now 21, is charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, child concealment and other crimes. She has pleaded not guilty.
"I thought it was my mom," the girl said, explaining why she left the classroom with the woman. "I could only see her eyes."
The girl, wearing a pink top and glittering lime-green skirt, said she was taken to a house and blindfolded, and told that a teenage girl and a bad man were also there. However, she said she never saw or heard a man. Prosecutors believe defendant Regusters played all three parts, and committed the crimes alone.
The teenager said that she herself had been sold to the man as a child, the girl testified. The 5-year-old apparently thought that was happening to her too. Instead, she said the teen led her to a park before dawn, and left her there half-naked.
"We're going to the park so you can escape," the teen told her, the girl testified.
She later told the sanitation worker who heard her crying in pain, "I've been stolen."
The girl is now 7 and about to start second grade at a different school. Her mother said her daughter had always been bubbly and silly. But she had a vacant look on her face in a photograph taken at a hospital the day she was found, and the mother testified that her daughter appeared drugged when she was found.
The girl's mother had dropped her and an older brother at school at about 8:35 a.m., after taking a toddler to the nearby day care where Regusters worked.
Moments later, the abductor apparently talked her way past two security checkpoints to get to the classroom, and then told the substitute teacher she was taking the girl out for breakfast — despite the fact the girl was just then eating her school breakfast.
"She said, 'Let's Go!'" the girl, speaking in a pipsqueak voice, later told her mother in a recorded conversation played in court Wednesday.
The mother never learned until 3 p.m. that the child had left school.
She appeared to take the lead looking for the girl, and described the substitute teacher as "nonchalant." She suggested that school officials check the videotape, and noticed the woman with the umbrella in ill-fitting Muslim clothes that she immediately thought looked like "a disguise." The tape then shows her daughter leaving school with the woman.
Days later, she recorded the conversations with her daughter, since that's when the girl began to talk about what happened.
"Listen, we're going to find the people," the mother told her child. "So don't get upset. You're telling us so many things. Enough that we're going to find these damn people that hurt you."
The Associated Press is withholding the names of the girl and her mother because it does not generally identify victims of sexual abuse.
The defense has argued that police have the wrong suspect. Regusters' lawyer, W. Fred Harrison Jr., has also said that his client was physically assaulted as a child and raped as a teen.
The trial is expected to continue next week. The victim's family also has a civil lawsuit filed against the Philadelphia School District.
"Could you think of anyone who would do this to your child?" a prosecutor asked the mother Wednesday.
"I could not," the mother said.