Rep. Frederica Wilson seeks justice for foster care child missing for a decade

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The missing child poster for 5-year-old Rilya Wilson is shown May 8, 2002 in Miami, FL. Wilson has been missing since January 2001 when someone claiming to work for the Florida Department of Children and Families (DFC) took her from her grandmother's home. The DFC reported her missing on April 25, 2002 and has no record of anyone taking her. (Photo courtesy of Miami-Dade Police Department/Getty Images)

The missing child poster for 5-year-old Rilya Wilson is shown May 8, 2002 in Miami, FL. Wilson has been missing since January 2001 when someone claiming to work for the Florida Department of Children and Families (DFC) took her from her grandmother's home. The DFC reported her missing on April 25, 2002 and has no record of anyone taking her. (Photo courtesy of Miami-Dade Police Department/Getty Images)

MIAMI – Congresswoman Frederica Wilson has said she hopes justice will be served in the tragic case of 4-year-old Rilya Wilson, who disappeared off the face of the earth while in foster care.

Wilson, who has been a staunch advocate for the missing child, says we must protect our foster children just as we would do our own children.

“We must ensure voiceless children, like Rilya, are not forgotten,” she said.

The girl went missing in Rep. Wilson’s district in 2001. She was in the care of her legal guardian, Pamela Graham, and Graham’s long-term lesbian lover, Geralyn Graham.

The pair concocted a story that a state child welfare worker took Rilya for a medical examination in January 2001 but never brought her back. Investigators have testified they found no evidence to support this claim.

Years later Geralyn Graham, 66, allegedly confessed to the child’s murder while she was serving a two-year sentence for fraud. She is said to have told inmates she smothered Rilya with a pillow and buried her body near a lake or canal.

The evidence is heavily circumstantial and rests on the testimony of a jailhouse “snitch.” Graham has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and has written letters to judges insisting she is innocent.

She faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, child abuse and kidnapping charges. Rilya’s body has never been found.

On Monday Pamela Graham, 48, who is not related to Geralyn, testified against her former lover. She painted a picture of a controlling and dominate woman and said she witnessed her ex repeatedly punish Rilya Wilson but did nothing to stop it because she was afraid.

“It’s probably because she’s an African-American child who has no mother, father or family,” said Rep. Wilson, “the case isn’t getting the publicity it deserves.”

Rilya was a vulnerable African-American child who was let down by the system, says Wilson. “Why would the state use their resources to find a girl no one wanted?”

An investigation showed that a DCF caseworker, Deborah Muskelly, didn’t make the mandatory monthly visits to the Grahams’ home for more than a year, even though she was filing in reports and telling judges the girl was fine. Muskelly was eventually placed on five years’ probation and paid restitution to the state after pleading guilty to official misconduct for falsifying time sheets.

The girl’s disappearance caused a statewide scandal because child welfare officials didn’t realize Rilya was missing for around 15 months. The case eventually led to sweeping changes in monitoring of foster children and other child welfare reforms, including the Rilya Wilson Act to protect foster children.

The trial is expected to last through mid-January.

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