A mother who D.C. police said snatched her two sons from the lobby of Children’s National Medical Center on Thursday took advantage of lax oversight by a child-neglect investigator who had brought the boys to be treated for possible abuse, according to two hospital officials who reviewed surveillance video from the scene.
The incident raised questions about how children in the District’s custody could disappear from the region’s renowned pediatric hospital in Northwest Washington. The brothers were found safe later that night in an apartment in Rockville after D.C. police published the youngsters’ photos and conducted a six-hour search spanning the District and two states with the help of the FBI.
(Photo provided by The Metropolitan Police Department) - Mikisha Funderburk
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A spokeswoman for the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency maintained that the mother distracted the investigator. But the hospital officials said the video shows the 5- and 10-year-old boys alone with their mother, who is seen being kissed on the cheek by her younger son near a giraffe statue as the social worker walked away to check in at the welcome desk.
Hospital officials said the investigator’s badge would have allowed her to bypass the check-in procedure and immediately take the children to a private room where a D.C. police officer was waiting. She also could have used a separate entrance to avoid bringing the children through the public lobby, the hospital officials said. The police report says one of the boys had bruises on his back and arms consistent with being struck with an extension cord.
No charges had been filed against the 27-year-old mother as of Friday, although police said the investigation continues into what they have classified an abduction.
Mindy Good, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, promised a thorough investigation. “We’re going to be doing a debrief of this situation,” she said. “The sign-in procedure will be part of that review.”
Good said the mother and investigator spoke briefly near the front desk, a conversation that a police report describes as a deliberate attempt by the mother to distract the social worker. Good said someone at the front desk asked the mother step aside, and the mother then “snatched up the children and was out the door.” The officials who have seen the video said that the investigator’s back was turned and that she had stepped 2 to 3 feet away moments before the children disappeared. The investigator did not return calls for comment.
Good stressed that officials in her office had not yet seen the video. She said the investigator had never met the mother, so she did not know who the woman was when she first appeared at the hospital. “There is no way to predict that things like that are going to happen,” Good said. “This was a situation that everyone dreads.”
Gwendolyn Crump, the D.C. police department’s chief spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the ongoing inquiry or confirm that an officer was at the hospital when the children arrived. “I can’t comment on what procedures were or were not followed,” she said.