A 5-year-old girl is recovering from serious injuries after police say a man broke into her North Philadelphia home sometime overnight Monday into Tuesday, abducted her and beat her unconscious in the backyard.
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Now, police are trying to figure out who is responsible for the abduction and brutal beating that left the little girl nearly dead in a weeded backyard. During a news conference on Thursday, Special Victims Unit Capt. John Darby asked the public for help in tracking down a suspect.
Vyneeka Hopkins, 29, the little girl's mother, told NBC10 that she woke up about 7 a.m. Tuesday and discovered that the younger of her two daughters was missing. The single mom and her 9-year-old daughter frantically searched the house for the little girl before enlisting the help of neighbors to check the rest of family's block of Hutchinson Street near Lehigh Avenue.
"I called neighbors to search my house one more time to make sure I'm not crazy [not being able to find her inside]," Hopkins explained Thursday morning from St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, where her daughter is being treated. "One neighbor was upstairs and looked out the window ... down in the yard that's overgrown with weeds, and was screaming, 'I found her! I found her!'"
Hopkins rushed out the back door and found a devastating sight: The little girl, still wearing the same T-shirt she'd worn to bed Tuesday night, was lying unconscious among the weeds, covered in blood.
"I thought she was dead. I was just crying and screaming," Hopkins said.
When Hopkins picked up the little girl, she began to wake up and told her mother -- and later investigators -- that she had awoken early in the morning and stepped out of the bedroom, when she was confronted by a man in the family's hallway. The man grabbed her, the little girl told them, picked her up and took her outside, where he badly beat her and left her to die.
"It's about as bad as it gets," Darby said. "We're looking at this as a stranger residential intrusion and child abduction, and an aggravated assault on that child."
The little girl suffered a broken jaw, fractures to her skull and a bruised liver, among other injuries, in the beating, the mother said. In photos provided to NBC10 of the little girl's injuries, her eyes are swollen shut, and cuts and bruises cover her face and shoulder.
The mother said one of her daughter's bruises is in the shape of a man's boot.
"None of [her injuries], thank god, lead to any internal brain damage or bleeding," the mother, who described her little girl as a fighter, said. "Both of her eyes are swollen shut. She can't even open her eyes right now, but she's in good spirits. She has to do a strictly liquid diet for the next six weeks."
Crime-scene investigators who combed the house for clues Tuesday found that a dining-room window had been forced open, and that a screen in a back window also appeared to be broken, Hopkins said. Police have theorized that the little girl may have interrupted a burglar, who then beat her. She was not sexually assaulted.
The mother said the brother of a neighbor on a nearby block was taken in for questioning when his sister turned him over to police and said she'd recently kicked him out of her house for drug use. Darby said investigators had a person in for questioning but that no one was placed under arrest.
"Whether he did it or someone else did it, someone broke into my house and did this to my children," Hopkins said.
Darby said the little girl described her attacker to investigators as a tall, thin black man with a medium to dark complexion who wore a black T-shirt and tan shorts at the time of the assault.
"We've been very aggressive in our investigation since that point," Darby said. "Because of the seriousness of a single incident, we're talking about a residential intrusion and literally the kidnapping of a 5-year-old to the outside of the property, we're obviously asking the public to assist us. We've been out to look for witnesses and to look for potential video."
He said although the abduction and beating were a lone incident and investigators have no reason to believe there's a pattern developing, neighbors should be vigilant. He said there have been burglaries recently in the general area of North Philadelphia where the abduction took place, but not immediately around the block where it happened. He said investigators were unsure whether the house was targeted or the man broke in at random.
Now, the single mom, who works as a leasing agent, is trying to come up with enough money to move her family out of the rough-and-tumble North Philadelphia neighborhood where this happened. She knows that when her daughter is released from the hospital, she won't be able to take her back to the house where something so horrific happened to her.
"I don't have the resources to readily up and move, which I'm going to have to, because she's going to be traumatized," Hopkins said. "I don't know what to do."
Darby urged residents in the immediate area to be vigilant and asked that anyone who may have information or recalls seeing anything suspicious to call the Special Victims Unit at 215-685-3251, 3252 or 3253.