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Crowd of Children Kills Teenage Girl

Aired May 26, 2002 - 09:10   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: In other news now, the ninth ward is pretty much well known for murder, but this murder that took place in this area of New Orleans has quite a startling twist. Police say a crowd of children and teenagers attacked and killed 16-year-old Vinicia Smith in front of her home. Two girls, ages 12 and 14, have been arrested on Second Degree Murder charges, and police are looking for others involved. Authorities say as many as ten people attacked the girl in an apartment neighborhood feud. They say one person stabbed her with a steak knife.

In Florida, court records show child welfare caseworkers skipped 15 monthly visits to the home of Rilya Wilson, and were so focused on paperwork, they didn't realize the five-year-old girl was missing. CNN National Correspondent Susan Candiotti has more now from Miami.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The paper trail paints an even more disturbing picture of how Florida lost track of Rilya Wilson. January 2001, the last recorded visit with Rilya and her little sister. A caseworker says: "The girls are very happy and well cared for."

In August, about eight months after Rilya allegedly left the house for an evaluation and never returned, signs of trouble, an e- mail from a child welfare attorney says: "Help. Who is the current worker on this case?" She adds: "The case had fallen off the calendar since March, 2001."

A few weeks later, just before a scheduled review by this judge, caseworker Deborah Muskelly files this update. "Children are in family like setting homes. The current caretakers are planning to adopt the children. At this time, this is the best placement."

But according to those caretakers, Rilya was long gone when that document was written in August 2001. In September, a child welfare attorney writes: "Where are the children? Why aren't they adopted?"

In February of this year, documents show several workers scrambling unsuccessfully for Rilya's records in the Adoptions Unit. In March, one month before Rilya is discovered missing her original caseworker is forced to resign, officials say, for falsifying records.

The entire mess led to this outburst by Rilya's judge, after discovering the child was missing.

JUDGE CINDY LEDERMAN, MIAMI-DADE JUVENILE COURT: It is absolutely despicable what has happened in this case.

CANDIOTTI: A day before notifying police Rilya Wilson was missing last month; Miami's child protection chief, Charles Auslander knew the situation was bad, very bad. "This one scares me," he writes to his bosses in Florida's capitol.

In that e-mail and others obtained by CNN, some contents blacked out by authorities, Florida child welfare officials raised questions about Rilya's caretaker, who said she turned over the child to a social worker for tests 15 months earlier.

"I am quite concerned with a relative who allows a child to be taken for an evaluation" a supervisor writes, "and does not knock down our doors looking to see what we did with the child." But caretaker Geralyn Graham has insisted she did everything she could.

GERALYN GRAHAM, RILYA WILSON'S CARETAKER: I went down there, two times, but I didn't get any more results than I got on the phone.

CANDIOTTI: A massive case file outlines the child's short troubled life, born to a mother who, files say, got hooked on crack at only 18. She's a recovering addict who lives in Cleveland. The man court files say is probably the father in jail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The got to find the child. The child is not dead. The child is somewhere.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): That's what authorities hope. On Friday, four billboards went up across Florida, trying to prompt new leads from travelers this holiday weekend. On Tuesday, Florida Governor Jeb Bush will receive recommendations from a blue ribbon panel he appointed on how to fix the system. Members of previous panels are skeptical. Much will change. Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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