Liberia's deputy ambassador to the U.S. said he tried to console an 8-year-old rape victim in Phoenix with hugs and a teddy bear in a case that has gripped Liberians worldwide.
Deputy Ambassador Edwin Sele said the girl, a Liberian refugee, cried heavily during their meeting on Saturday and that she needs to be reunited with her family to get the best care possible.
"I talked with her and I took her a teddy bear," he said. "She was very distressed, she's really traumatized."
Phoenix police allege four boys, all Liberian refugees ages 9 to 14, lured the girl to an empty storage shed July 16 with the promise of chewing gum, then restrained and raped her.
The case sparked an international outcry after police reported the girl's father said she brought shame on the family and he didn't want her back. Authorities said the comments prompted Child Protective Services to take custody of the girl.
Sele, who met with the girl's parents, said a language barrier had caused a misunderstanding over the comments. Sele also said the parents were desperate to see their daughter again.
"The families are not the criminals," he said.
The girl also wants to see her parents and feels like being kept from them is a punishment, Sele said. "She's feeling like, 'What has happened? What have I done?"
Sele was on his last full day in Phoenix as part of a fact-finding trip. He met with police, child care workers prosecutors and the children's family members at the request of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Sele also had hoped to meet with the four boys charged with raping the girl, but was stopped by lawyers.
The 14-year-old boy who so far is the only one being charged as an adult in the rape is scheduled for a court hearing Monday. He is charged with one count each of kidnapping, sexual assault and attempted sexual conduct with a minor, and four counts of sexual conduct with a minor.
Prosecutors are seeking adult charges against the 13-year-old accused in the case, while two 10-year-olds are charged in juvenile court with sexual conduct. One of them also is charged with kidnapping. Both boys are scheduled for mental competency hearings Aug. 18.