Three weeks after a 5-year-old girl was abducted at an elementary school in Cobbs Creek and then found alive the next day, her grandfather is insisting the unsolved crime was a random act of violence.
“We believe it was a random act of a pervert sending someone who they had control over to go to a public school, kindergarten class, and take out a young girl who he could take out his perversion on,” Imam Asim Abdur-Rashid told NBC10’s Daralene Jones in an exclusive interview.
Abdur-Rashid has been the leader of a mosque in Cobbs Creek for over 20 years and is also an Amir, which makes him the head of most of the mosques within Philadelphia. Due to his powerful stature within the Muslim community, police suspect his granddaughter may have been specifically targeted by someone with a vendetta against her family. Abdur-Rashid made headlines last year after he and other local Muslim leaders offered a $20,000 reward to help find bank robbers dressed in Islamic women’s clothing. Police have now questioned Abdur-Rashid a second time about the kidnapping, asking specifically if he believes he was targeted by the people who committed those crimes.
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“I told them absolutely not,” said Abdur-Rashid. “I’ve heard a lot of foolishness that really is offensive when you consider the hurt that my granddaughter suffered.”
Detectives have received more than 200 tips about the abduction, but for Abdur-Rashid, that translates to police spending a lot of time on information that’s not critical to the investigation.
“We appreciate the fact that the police are leaving no stone unturned,” said Abdul-Rashid. “But while they’re getting tips about what may have happened and who may have done it, it’s clogging the system, sort of, with all of these random tips. And I believe it’s hindering what they should be concentrating on. While we do appreciate all the information that’s pouring in, we would like people to be a little more focused on the information that they give. Because sometimes you can clog the system with information that’s not important.”
Surveillance video of his granddaughter’s abduction shows a woman dressed in Muslim garb taking the girl out of William C. Bryant Elementary School at 60th Street and Cedar Avenue, on January 14. A man meets up with the woman and victim a few blocks away. Police say the two took the girl to a nearby home, forced her to undress, blindfolded her and eventually dropped her off in an Upper Darby park where she was found shivering, wearing only a T-shirt, by a Good Samaritan the next day.
Although police say the woman appeared to know the little girl and even signed her out of school by her name, Abdur-Rashid says that’s not the version of events he got from his granddaughter.
“My granddaughter told me that the woman asked for her name after they went outside,” said Abdur-Rashid. “My granddaughter then told her what her name was and the woman said, ‘By the way, my name is Rashida.’ So based on that information, we don’t believe she asked for her by name.”
And much like last year’s robbery, Abdur-Rashid said he also wonders if the woman who abducted his granddaughter is really Muslim, or if she used the clothes as a cover.
“We’ve had people who dress like Muslims, including women, that cover their faces and commit crimes since Islam is so popular in Philadelphia,” said Abdur-Rashid. “But it could’ve happened to any child and we don’t believe she was singled out.”
Abdur-Rashid insists that the Muslim community he and his family live in is a protective one, which doesn’t allow many outside interactions. For this reason, Abdur-Rashid says he doesn’t think the people behind the crime are people that the family knows. He also discounts any notion that it was sparked by an internal conflict within the Muslim community, saying Muslims “don’t fight each other by abducting children.”
Police have given polygraphs to both the victim’s mother and father. They’ve interviewed the father twice, raising suspicions about whether the little girl was targeted by someone who knew her father.
“My granddaughter’s father and my daughter have been separated for some time,” said Abdur-Rashid. “I can’t imagine anyone using my granddaughter as a way to get back at him for something. But God only knows, I can’t speculate on that.”
Abdur-Rashid says his main focus is finding the people responsible for his granddaughter’s kidnapping and helping the young girl cope with the “unspeakable experience” she went through.
“I see a little girl that’s trying to be normal but at the same time suffering from an emotional trauma of being kidnapped and blindfolded and separated from her loved ones,” said Abdur-Rashid. “She was put in a cold, dark park in the middle of the night, freezing cold, with no clothes. Every time I see her it’s like something just goes through my heart, the helplessness of not being able to do anything about the evil that was done to her. We’re trying to get any information that we could possibly get that would lead to an arrest of the people who committed this crime.”
Police believe the woman who took the girl is a dark-skinned (possibly pregnant) black woman in her late 20s, about 5-foot-5 to 5-foot-8-inches tall with greenish or light-colored eyes who was wearing dark-colored Muslim clothing and possibly goes by "Rashida." They also believe the person she met with outside the school is a very light-skinned, possibly white man in his mid-30s with short brown hair who wore sweat pants and a blue long-sleeved T-shirt.
An $85,000 reward is being offered to anyone with information that leads police to the capture and conviction of the abductors. Anyone with information can call Philadelphia police at 215-686-TIPS (8477), the Special Victims Unit at 215-685-3251 or 911. Emails can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org