MIAMI (AP) - Florida's Department of Children and Families waited six days to tell the police that it lost track of a 5-year-old girl under the state's care, according to internal memos obtained by The Miami Herald.
E-mails exchanged between caseworkers and the department's administrators revealed the agency used an internal procedure to try to locate Rilya Wilson, the newspaper reported Sunday.
Rilya, whose mother lives in East Cleveland, Ohio, was reported missing April 25 after disappearing from her caretaker's home 15 months before. The child was living with Geralyn Graham, identified in department records as Rilya's paternal grandmother.
Graham told police a woman from Children and Families took Rilya from her Miami home in January 2001.
The child is now feared dead because police believe a beheaded body found last year in Kansas City, Mo., may match the missing girl.
Caseworkers delayed telling the police because they believed they could locate the child themselves, said LaNedra Carroll, a spokeswoman for the child welfare agency.
"They systematically looked for the child as soon as they learned she was not where she was supposed to be," Carroll said. "It's not as if there was any indication they needed to make a 911 call right away. They have to try to take the time to figure out what happened to the child."
The first memo about Rilya's case was sent April 19 by caseworker Monica Porrata. Foster care counselor Dora Betancourt then wrote that she "attempted to locate" Rilya and was informed "the child does not appear in the system."
She then informed Porrata that she would "make some more contacts" on Rilya's case, the memos showed.
Graham said she wrote to the agency in January to ask about the child's whereabouts.
In February, Porrata called Graham to tell her the case had been transferred to another case worker. Two months later, Betancourt contacted Graham and began inquiring about Rilya at daycare centers and hospitals.
Charles Auslander, the agency's Miami district chief, learned April 23 that Rilya was missing. The next day, he wrote an "urgent" e-mail to the department's Tallahassee office saying he hoped someone in Rilya's family "took the child and that the grandmother is covering up."
"This one scares me," Auslander wrote.
The e-mail prompted Tallahassee administrator Larry Pintacuda to reply, "When are you going to notify law enforcement that the child is missing?"
Kathleen Kearney, the secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, was notified of the case April 25.
The girl's mother, Gloria Wilson, lost custody of the child because of a drug addiction. She has said Graham is the girl's godmother and that she met her after getting to know Graham's daughter in a drug treatment program.
Graham has told officials that her son, Kenneth Epson, is Rilya's father. Wilson denies Epson is the father and hasn't provided the name of the child's biological father.
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 found dead. Donations can be made at any northeast Ohio Key Bank location.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)