PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Dry-eyed but downcast, a 4-year-old whose father allegedly tried to sell her for $100,000 was turned over to her stepmother Monday as the battle for her custody continued.
Rachel Rauser was escorted by police off an Eastern Airlines plane that flew into Philadelphia International Airport from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., avoiding reporters and photographers waiting in the terminal.
She stood quietly on the tarmac and nodded when her stepmother, Cindy Sullivan-Waltman of Salem, N.J., spoke to her, and then they got into a station wagon and drove off.
Charles Sullivan, Ms. Sullivan-Waltman’s father, confirmed later that Rachel had arrived at his daughter’s home. ″We’re very, very happy...″ he said. ″She seems to be fine.″
The little girl, whose mother was killed in a traffic accident in 1984, had been staying with her aunt and uncle, Deborah and Gary Stern of Sunrise, Fla., who have vowed to continue fighting for the child’s custody.
″I’m going to Philadelphia tomorrow to meet with our attorney,″ Stern said Monday in Florida. ″And we’re going to come back as a family.″
A New Jersey court awarded custody to Ms. Sullivan-Waltman, who is separated from the child’s father, Joseph Waltman.
Waltman was arrested March 10 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on charges of trying to sell his daughter to the Sterns for $100,000. The Sterns had informed police and cooperated in the arrest.
Rachel was accompanied to Philadelphia by Mrs. Stern and her sister, Rebecca Rauser of Flanders, N.J.
″She’s gone through so much since here mother’s death that she is much older than her 4 years,″ said Ms. Rauser. ″She’s had to deal with so many strange homes, so many different people that she is just trying her best to try to think of a way to get out of it all.″
″She was generally very silent on the plane; she didn’t cry,″ said Mrs. Stern.
The Sterns face an arrest warrant in New Jersey because of their failure to return the child as ordered last week. But Mrs. Stern said she was confident she would regain full custody, arguing that both Waltmans are unfit to keep Rachel.
A New Jersey judge initially awarded the Sterns temporary custody of the girl, who has been given $3 million in an insurance settlement because of an automobile accident that killed her mother, sister to Mrs. Stern and Ms. Rauser. The Sterns took her to their home in Sunrise.
But a judge later returned custody to Ms. Sullivan-Waltman, who had been caring for Rachel for 14 months.
The Sterns refused to honor the custody order, and were indicted in New Jersey on charges of interfering with Rachel’s custody. They turned themselves in to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office on April 14 and were released on their own recognizance.
After failing to get Florida courts to reverse the New Jersey order, the Sterns agreed to send Rachel back to her stepmother and fight the custody battle there.
The Sterns and Rachel spent the morning making plans for her birthday in July ″because that’s the only way I can keep her calm,″ Stern said.
Rachel cried Sunday night when they told her she was going to New Jersey but did not cry Monday, said Stern.
Earlier Monday Broward Circuit Judge Robert Andrews had reaffirmed his decision last week not to interfere with the New Jersey order giving custody to Ms. Sullivan-Waltman.