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Caregiver charged with killing missing girl

Missing 5-year-old Rilya Wilson
Rilya Wilson is shown in a missing child poster distributed in Miami in 2002. Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A woman who was supposed to be taking care of Rilya Wilson, the 4-year-old foster child whose disappearance three years ago scandalized Florida’s child-protection agency, was indicted Wednesday on charges of murdering the little girl.

Geralyn Graham was also charged with kidnapping and aggravated child abuse. No body has been found, prosecutors said.

“Our grand jury has heard the facts and determined that Rilya’s disappearance was the result of an act of violence and has indicted the child’s former caretaker,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said.

Rilya’s story became known three years ago when it was discovered that she was not living at the home she shared with Graham and another woman, Pamela Graham. The Grahams claimed a state social worker had taken the child in early 2001 for medical testing and never returned with the girl, who was 4 when she was last seen.

The girl’s disappearance had gone unnoticed by the Florida Department of Children & Families for months. The scandal led to a major shakeup at the agency, as well as a search for the girl.

No prosecution details on chargingProsecutors refused to give details on how they determined to charge Graham and the indictment doesn’t mention any evidence. But they said they believe the girl was dead by the time her disappearance was discovered three years ago.

Graham’s attorney, Brian L. Tannebaum, said he had not seen the indictment. “This is a woman who they charged with kidnapping without any evidence that she took the child anywhere, and now they’ve charged her with the murder of a child they have not located,” he said.

Geralyn Graham is in jail on unrelated fraud charges and could have a court appearance as early as Thursday on the new charges, said state attorney spokesman Ed Griffith. Her attorney, Brian L. Tannebaum, said he hadn’t seen the indictment.

Agency under immediate fireThe fallout of Rilya’s disappearance was immediate. A blue-ribbon panel appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to investigate Rilya’s disappearance found massive problems at DCF, including the failure to check the background of caregivers and low pay for child protection workers.

DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney resigned in September 2002 and seven of 14 regional administrators with the agency were replaced. The Legislature passed a law making it a felony for welfare workers to falsify documents relating to anyone in state care.

Geralyn Graham was arrested shortly after the disappearance on unrelated charges and was convicted of using a friend’s Social Security number to buy a sport utility vehicle. She got three years in jail, where she remains. Pamela Graham pleaded guilty to accepting welfare payments for Rilya after the girl left her care and received two years probation.

But no charges were filed for Rilya’s disappearance until August when Geralyn Graham was accused of aggravated child abuse, for locking Rilya in a cage and other alleged mistreatment. She was also charged with kidnapping for removing Rilya from Pamela Graham’s custody. Pamela Graham, who was cooperating with authorities, was charged with child abuse.

‘Remember I love you always’Rilya was born Sept. 29, 1996, to a homeless cocaine addict. The girl’s name was an acronym for “Remember I love you always.” She was taken into state custody when she was less than 2 months old.

In April 2000, when she was 3, Rilya was placed in the custody of Pamela Graham. The Grahams have falsely called themselves sisters, but Pamela Graham told co-workers that Geralyn was her wife. Geralyn Graham told The Miami Herald in August that she and Pamela had been in a “loving” but non-sexual relationship for 10 years.

DCF later acknowledged that its background check had failed to discover that Geralyn Graham had a long criminal history for fraud and had been diagnosed as psychotic six months before Rilya moved in.