Little New Yorker might turn out to be a Baltimore child

Mix-up in Brooklyns looks likely

D.C. woman says she's mystery girl's mom

May 21, 2004|By Allison Klein and Molly Knight | Allison Klein and Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

It's Brooklyn, Baltimore, not Brooklyn, New York. And her name is Akasha, not Courtney.

After Baltimore social services officials went on national television to plead for New Yorkers to come forward with information on the girl they called Courtney from Brooklyn, the 3-year-old child who captured hearts across the country this week with her tearful cries for her "mommy" might get her wish today.

A woman claiming to be Akasha's mother is expected in Baltimore Circuit Court this morning to seek an emergency custody order.

Lawyers for Patricia Harper, who lives in Washington, say the child's father, Robert Andrew Persons, kidnapped Akasha two years ago and moved to a run-down section of Brooklyn, Baltimore, where they slept in shelters and blended into city life.

Harper's attorney said she has Akasha's birth certificate and medical records and is ready to claim the daughter she hasn't seen in two years.

"She is beyond words," said the lawyer, Rebecca Cosca. "She is very anxious and she's in disbelief. She won't truly believe it until she has her daughter back in her arms."

Cosca said that somehow, when authorities found Akasha, the neighborhood of Brooklyn in South Baltimore became the borough of New York.

"There was confusion in the Brooklyns," Cosca said. She also believes the girl's father told her to call herself "Courtney," rather than her real name.

Harper, 21 and a stay-at-home mother, found her oldest daughter when Akasha's sad face showed up on every major television network as an abandoned child looking for her parents. Harper gave birth to another daughter just three weeks ago.

Akasha was taken to the Baltimore Department of Social Services on May 5 by a woman who said the girl's father had dropped her off and did not return.

In fact, Persons had been arrested on charges of possession and distribution of cocaine, court records show.

He was released from jail yesterday, after posting $250 bail.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Department of Social Services held a news conference Monday saying it was looking for the parents of an abandoned child named Courtney who was from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Akasha shyly came out to greet the cameras and within minutes had burst into tears, crying, "I want my mommy."

Over the past few days, network television morning shows have been letting Baltimore City social worker representatives issue desperate pleas for New Yorkers to try to identify "Courtney."

New York tabloid newspapers also took up the little girl's cause.

Department of Human Resources Secretary Christopher J. McCabe held another news conference last night, saying he is trying to "patch together" the case. He offered no details about the child that the department continues to call Courtney.

McCabe said that the department has received numerous tips - all of which it is "taking seriously."

"At this stage, the department is still trying to put together the story of Courtney," said McCabe, adding that the girl is still in the care of a Baltimore foster family and is "happy, healthy, playful and comfortable."

But Patricia Harper's lawyers say the case is solved.

"We've been trying to go through the court system to find her for two years," Cosca said. "But because he had no fixed address or driver's license, he just blended into Baltimore City and was unable to be located."

Persons and Harper began dating in 1997 when he was 30 years old and she was 14. That year, he was convicted of statutory rape and sentenced to serve a year in prison.

After he was released, the two dated again, and she became pregnant in 1999. Akasha was born in July 2000, and the two later split up.

In July 2002, Persons picked up Akasha for a visit and went to the Prince George's County Court alleging Harper was an inadequate mother, Cosca said.

A judge awarded Persons temporary custody of the child and ordered Harper to stay away from Persons, the lawyer said.

"That was the last time we saw him or Akasha," Cosca said.

In December 2002, the court returned custody to Harper, Cosca said. In May 2003, a Prince George's County judge ordered a witness warrant for Persons, but authorities could not find him, according to Cosca.

"He was in Baltimore," she said.

The father's location and legal status were unclear last night.

A visit to his home, in the 3600 block of Brooklyn Ave., showed a run-down rental rowhouse with a battered couch on the front porch.

Desairee Wade, 21, who rents an apartment on the first floor, said that a young girl who looked like the child shown on TV had been staying with a man who introduced himself as Robert Persons in an upstairs apartment briefly a week or two ago.

Persons was visiting a friend of his named Sherry, who rents the upstairs apartment. She's sometimes known as "Scary Sherry," when she works as a stripper on The Block, said Katie Bowman, another neighbor who recognized the girl and who sat with Wade on the front porch yesterday.

"The little girl would play in the pool in the back yard with my kid, Timothy," who is 4 years old, said Wade. "She seemed happy. She was playing with the neighborhood kids, like normal kids do. I don't know what happened to her."

Neither did Harper. But her lawyers say she's excited at the thought of having her daughter back home.

"We hope the reuniting will happen tomorrow," Cosca said last night.

Sun staff writer Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

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