COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio can take custody of a girl who ran away to Florida, saying she feared she'd be killed for converting to Christianity from Islam, a judge ruled Thursday in a decision clarifying the girl's legal status once she returns.
The Franklin County Children's Services agency will take custody of Rifqa Bary pending the confirmation of her immigration status or her return to Ohio, according to the order by Franklin County Juvenile Court Magistrate Mary Goodrich.
The decision was supported by lawyers for the girl and for her parents, natives of Sri Lanka. Franklin County opposed the request for custody, saying it was premature until the girl was in Ohio.
Bary, 17, has been in foster care in Orlando. A Florida judge on Tuesday said he planned to send her to Ohio once he receives immigration and education documents.
Bary ran away from her parents' Columbus-area home in July. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found no credible threats to the girl.
Her father, Mohamed Bary, has said the family had asked Rifqa to stop proselytizing at school because they didn't feel it was an appropriate activity there. They also told her she had an obligation to study her original faith first, before choosing another, her father said. But he denies ever threatening her.
A foster home has already been picked out for the girl once she arrives, Bonnie Vangeloff, Bary's court-appointed lawyer, told the judge.