The family of a kindergartener abducted from her Philadelphia classroom and found shivering and partially clothed at a playground the next day accused the school district of "reckless indifference" in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
A worker at an after-school program the girl attended is charged with kidnapping her last year, then blindfolding and sexually assaulting her at a house. The girl was then abandoned outside on the cold January night and found by a sanitation worker who heard her cries at 4 a.m.
"This child is entitled to compensation, but the goals are larger and the objectives far broader," family lawyer Thomas R. Kline said of the lawsuit, which he hopes will address school practices on releasing children to adults.
"They handed over a child to a stranger, without doing any kind of checking," he said. "My intuition tells me this is not the first time that this kind of incident would have occurred."
A grand jury investigation led to a string of charges against Christina Regusters, now 20, but Kline believes at least one or two others were involved.
"We believe that she was sexually assaulted by more than one person ... (and) that there was a male involved, as well as Ms. Regusters," Kline said.
The girl suffered serious injuries that have left her disfigured, according to the lawsuit, which charges that the school violated her civil rights to remain free from bodily harm. The girl is now 7, and continues to attend public school in Philadelphia.
Regusters, posing as the girl's mother in a Muslim garment and veil, got past a security guard and stopped at the school office at Bryant Elementary School in West Philadelphia. She then went to the girl's classroom, where she told a substitute teacher that she was taking the girl out for breakfast, authorities have said.
School security video shows the pair leaving school at 8:50 a.m. The girl was not reported missing until 3 p.m., when she was absent for the off-site program where Regusters worked.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
The girl told police that there had been a talking bird in the house where she was held, a detail that helped police make an arrest. Regusters is scheduled to go on trial in August on kidnap, sexual assault and other charges. Her lawyer also maintains that others were involved, but prosecutors have dropped conspiracy charges initially filed in the case.
District spokeswoman Raven Hill said the district does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit also names substitute Reginald Littlejohn, 64, of Sharon Hill, as a defendant. A message left at his home Wednesday was not immediately answered.
Click here for more stories about the ongoing investigation into the kidnapping and assault.