HARTFORD, Conn. – The parents of a 15-year-old girl found hidden in an acquaintance's home a year after she vanished disputed claims Friday that the girl had a cell phone during that time, went to school and could come and go as she pleased.
"She says otherwise," the girl's mother said in a cable news interview .
The parents' attorney, Marc Needelman, also dismissed as "a total fabrication" defense claims that the girl had been abused at her own home and that she had found a safe haven in the home of Adam Gault, a 41-year-old man who had once worked with her stepfather. Police also have contested the claims.
"The Bloomfield police department has been involved in the investigation for over a year. They publicly stated yesterday in no uncertain terms that (the girl's parents) have absolutely no responsibility, have committed no crimes or engaged in any improprieties," Needelman said.
The girl was discovered by police on Wednesday, hidden in a tiny, locked, closet-like room behind a bureau in Gault's home. She was pale and had been compelled to use a new name that made her appear to be part of that family, Bloomfield police Capt. Jeffrey Blatter said. The FBI is investigating whether she was taken out of the state during that time.
She remains in the custody of the state Department of Children and Families. State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein said Friday that her office will review the girl's family and school life and difficulties she faced before running away last June.
"Quite frankly, I think we would describe this as a new beginning for this child," Milstein said. "It's an opportunity to assess her needs and get her the treatment that she absolutely deserves."
Department of Children and Family officials said in a statement Friday that the agency had "a brief involvement" with the girl's family last summer. They released no details, including whether the girl was involved, but said they were reviewing the matter.
Gault was arrested along with two women living in the home, Ann Murphy, 40, and Kimberly Cray, 26. They were charged with conspiracy to commit unlawful restraint, conspiracy to commit risk of injury to a minor and interfering with police.
An attorney for Cray, Michael Georgetti, argued Thursday that the girl had run away from her parents' home to escape sexual abuse. He said that the abuse was reported to police before she disappeared, but no arrests were made.
Police verified that Gault had filed a sexual abuse complaint on the girl's behalf shortly before she disappeared saying she had been abused by a family friend. But there was insufficient evidence, and the complaint was closed, Blatter said.
While the girl was at Gault's house, Georgetti said, she was free to come and go, had a cell phone and was allowed to attend school. She was in the tiny room Wednesday to hide from police, he said.
West Hartford police Capt. Lori Coppinger disputed Georgetti's claim that the girl had been offered a safe haven, and she said the girl was not attending school.
Bloomfield police said that since Gault's arrest, they have received multiple calls from people inside and outside the state who claim Gault abused them. Authorities are looking into all the allegations, Blatter said.
Coppinger said other girls may have experienced "something very similar to what's going on right now with this young girl."
A 16-year-old boy identified in court documents as Murphy's son was also living at the house. He was placed in the custody of the state Department of Children and Families, which also will decide if the girl should be returned to her parents.
Gault, a dog trainer, lived in nearby West Hartford and worked years ago with the girl's stepfather, who said family members own a kennel and dog day care in Bloomfield.
Cell phone records showed that Gault and the girl had talked often before she vanished, Blatter said. Blatter said the girl had sometimes run away from home before she vanished last June and that with Gault, she may have "found what she believed to be a friend."
Officers questioned Gault several times after the girl disappeared, but Gault always denied any involvement. Police were serving a search warrant on his home Wednesday morning, seeking a DNA sample and other evidence, when an officer found the girl.
Georgetti said the girl was hiding from police Wednesday but was otherwise free to come and go.
"If you were taking actions to prevent someone from being abused, that is not a crime," Georgetti said. "We can protect animals from abuse. I think we should be able to protect children from abuse."
West Hartford police Capt. Lori Coppinger, however, said the girl was not attending school and disputed Georgetti's claim that the teen had been offered a safe haven.
"Information that we have would lead us in another direction as to what her welfare was at this time," she said.
Mark Needelman, an attorney for the girl's parents, said in a cable news interview that Georgetti was trying to create doubt.
"He's a defense attorney. He's paid to try and create doubt in terms of the guilt of his client or clients," Needelman said.
Investigators believe the girl sometimes traveled out of state and assumed a new identity while living with Gault, Blatter said. The FBI is investigating the out-of-state travels.
"She was compelled to use a new name, to assume a new identity," Blatter said. "She did assume a name that would suggest she was part of that family."
The girl's stepfather told WCBS-TV Thursday that her mother had been allowed to spend a few hours with her Wednesday.
"She's having some issues," he said of the girl. "She didn't even know who she was."
He said family members had limited information about what had happened to the girl in the year she was gone.
"Every parent's nightmare was mine," the girl's mother said Thursday. "I can never describe the horror of losing a child and having to maintain a family at the same time and having to go on."
A 16-year-old boy identified in court documents as Murphy's son was also living at the house. He was placed in the custody of the state Department of Children and Families, which also will decide if the missing girl should be returned to her parents.