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Mother: Girl’s Caregiver Not Related

May 2, 2002

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MIAMI (AP) _ The mother of a girl who has allegedly been missing unnoticed for 15 months said Thursday that the woman who was caring for her child is not really the girl’s grandmother.

Gloria Wilson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from her home in East Cleveland, Ohio, that the woman who was caring for her daughter, Geralyn Graham, wasn’t related to little Rilya Wilson, who disappeared from Graham’s custody.

``She was the godmother,″ Wilson said. She said they met after she got to know Graham’s daughter when she and the daughter were in a program for drug abusers.

Graham, however, told The Miami Herald in Thursday’s editions that her son, Kenneth Epson, is Rilya’s father.

Authorities learned last week that Rilya was unaccounted-for. Two siblings who also were in the custody of Graham were removed from her care late Wednesday by the Florida Department of Children and Families, said Detective Ed Munn, a spokesman for Miami-Dade County Police.

Miguel Milanes, spokesman for the children and families department, said Graham was listed in case files as a relative and was receiving monthly checks from the state under a program for people who are related to the children in their care. Milanes said Graham would have had to show proof that she was a relative.

No one answered a knock on Graham’s door Thursday morning.

Munn said the matter remained a missing persons case and was not a criminal investigation.

``Our goal is to find the little girl. We’re not going to get caught up with semantics,″ Munn said. ``We’re not going to take a different course if it turns out she’s the godmother.″

Wilson also said that neither she nor her own mother, who also lives in Ohio, has had any contact over the past year with anyone claiming to have the child.

Graham had said earlier that she was given care of the girl in early 2000. Graham 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.

Graham said she asked caseworker Deborah Muskelly several times when the girl would return to her home.

``She said, ’Oh, we’re working on it,‴ Graham said. ``I believe Muskelly knew where Rilya was.″ She said Muskelly later told her the girl would be coming back, but she never did.

Muskelly has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment on Graham’s account.

Earlier, she had denied any wrongdoing and said the case was sent to the adoption unit because the mother’s parental rights were terminated. But she resigned March 20 after an internal audit found she was not making the required monthly visits to some of the children assigned to her.

Department officials said they learned Rilya was unaccounted-for April 25. Graham was shown photos of the caseworker and other department employees, but did not recognize the person who she said picked up the girl.

Department chief Kathleen Kearney said the casework was abysmal and she takes full responsibility for the errors in the case.

In Tallahassee, Gov. Jeb Bush said state officials are reviewing 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 dashed the hopes of Kansas City, Mo., residents who thought the case might solve the mystery of a little girl found beheaded there in April 2001. The unidentified girl, who somewhat resembles Rilya, 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.

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