Investigators Treating Case Of Missing Girl As Possible Homicide

By ADRIAN SAINZ, Associated Press Writer

MIAMI (AP) - The disappearance of a 5-year-old girl that allegedly went unnoticed for 15 months is now being treated as a possible homicide rather than a missing persons case, a prosecutor said.

Although no specific evidence of Rilya Wilson's death has been found, officials now suspect the girl was killed because of the length of time since she was last seen and the girl's troubled history, Miami-Dade County Assistant State Attorney Tammy Forrest said.

"We're treating it as a homicide because we believe it very well might be one," Forrest, chief prosecutor of the state attorney's sexual battery and child abuse unit, told The Miami Herald. "We have several leads, but we need to investigate further."

On Thursday, Rilya's mother, Gloria Wilson, said the woman who was caring for Rilya wasn't related to her. Rilya disappeared from the custody of the woman, Geralyn Graham.

"She was the godmother," Wilson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday from her home in East Cleveland, Ohio.

Wilson, who lost custody of the girl because of a drug addiction, said she met Graham after she got to know the woman's daughter when she and the daughter were in a drug abuse program.

"I'm just waiting and praying that she's not dead," Wilson told CBS' "The Early Show" on Friday.

"I was in shock; I thought that she was in better care," she said.

Graham, however, told the Herald that her son, Kenneth Epson, is Rilya's father.

LaNedra Carroll, director of communications for the Florida Department of Children and Families, said paperwork lists Graham as the paternal grandmother. Carroll said she could not immediately find a reference to Epson in case documents stating he is the father.

Graham has said she was given care of the girl in early 2000.

She said Rilya had behavior problems and may have been mistreated, and was taken away for evaluation in January 2001 by someone Graham thought was a Children & Families worker.

Department officials said they learned Rilya was missing April 25.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman has scheduled a hearing for Monday to consider whether to hold the agency in contempt, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported in its Friday editions.

In Tallahassee, Gov. Jeb Bush said state officials are reviewing the handling of Rilya's case to try to prevent it from happening again. But he said the government can only go so far.

"Until we recognize that the biggest issue here is the lack of wholesome love and family life in our state, to expect that the government can fill that void in a perfect fashion is impossible," he said.

On Wednesday, police in Kansas City, Mo., where a little girl was found beheaded in April 2001, said the unidentified girl was probably not Rilya. The girl has been nicknamed Precious Doe.

Miami police relayed a hand print from Rilya, and authorities said it didn't match that of Precious. Investigators will still do DNA testing to definitively rule out any connection between the cases.

"I feel like we're back to square one," said Annette Johnson, co-chair of the Precious Doe Committee, formed to help police crack the case.

Department of Children and Families services officials said they learned Rilya was missing April 25.

A court docket showed department caseworkers filed status reports on Rilya's custody and adoption status or participated in hearings at least five times during the months the girl was allegedly missing, the Herald reported.

The case before Juvenile Judge Cindy Lederman was a sealed dependency court action reviewing the suitability of Graham's home as part of her plans to adopt the girl. Wilson's parental rights already had been terminated.

The Herald said the last report was filed April 23.

Friday, a court spokeswoman said the docket wasn't a public document and wasn't accessible for outside review.

A fund has been set up in Rilya's name to take care of general care and education costs should she be found alive or to cover the cost of transporting her body and funeral expenses should she be identified as Precious Doe. Donations can be made at any northeast Ohio Key Bank location.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)