Panel probes missing girl case

May 8, 2002 at 6:25 PM
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MIAMI, May 8 (UPI) -- Florida's social service agency took full responsibility for the disappearance of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson, an investigatory four-member, blue-ribbon commission was told Wednesday.

The commission was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to determine how the little girl could have been missing for 16 months.

Rilya has not been seen since a woman came to her caretaker's house in January 2001 and claimed she was taking the girl away for neurological testing.

The little girl has not been seen since, although Juvenile Court Judge Cindy Lederman said caseworker Deborah Muskelly filed reports saying Rilya was OK. Muskelly and supervisor Willie Harris have since resigned.

Former Miami Herald Publisher David Lawrence, chairman of the four-member commission, said the Rilya Wilson case would be investigated, but that the entire mission of the department would also be scrutinized.

"We need to answer: Are the children in our community safe?" Lawrence asked.

The commission plans to hold four meetings before the June 3 deadline for their report.

"I'm looking forward to their recommendation. In addition to that -- internally, the department has the responsibility to make sure that they are taking all the measures necessary to protect these precious children," Bush said.

Bush said he talked to all the department's district directors by telephone earlier in the day.

"We reviewed both the short-term challenges we have given them, and the long-term situation of the child welfare system in general," Bush said. "The intent is to have an independent verification of every child in the system."

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