Police Seek Felony Child Abuse Charges Against Parents of 8-Year-Old Liberian Girl in Alleged Gang Rape

Phoenix police are seeking felony child abuse charges against the parents of an 8-year-old Liberian girl who was allegedly raped by four young boys.

Police didn't name the adults, but reports accompanying the referral for charges identify the parents as the subject of the probe.

The girl was placed in protective custody after police say she was gang-raped in July by four Liberian boys who lured her to an empty storage shed with the promise of chewing gum. The boys, ages 10 to 14, face charges in the alleged assault.

The rape case drew international attention after police reported the girl's parents said they were ashamed of her and didn't want her back — a contention later disputed by the family's pastor. The girl remains in state custody.

The parents have not been arrested because the child is no longer in harm's way, Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill said Thursday. The Associated Press is not naming the parents to avoid identifying their daughter, who police say is a rape victim.

At least five incidents — starting when the girl was 4 — led to referrals to state Child Protective Services, but by themselves didn't merit arrests at the time, Hill said. Taken together, investigators believe the incidents showed a pattern of abuse and neglect that merited the referral for felony charges.

Investigators submitted a packet Wednesday to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office detailing a string of incidents. The county attorney will review the reports and decide if charges should be filed.

The first incident was in 2005. Child protective services workers were called for an unspecified reason, but didn't involve police, Hill said.

Two years later, police in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale discovered the girl had injuries consistent with child abuse after school officials called them. Officials removed her for the weekend before allowing her to return home.

In July 2008, the girl took a steak from a neighbor's grill and Phoenix police officers found her hungry and wandering around by herself, Hill said.

In April, police got a report that the girl was seen being dragged into the family apartment. Eleven days later, an officer found her lost and wandering the neighborhood and wrote a child neglect report.

In May, a Phoenix officer found her wandering around begging for food.

Child Protective Services spokesman Steve Meissner said that the agency couldn't comment on specific cases because of state confidentiality laws.

But he said the law requires the agency to provide resources to try to keep the family together.

"Removing a child from the family has to be one of the last resorts," Meissner said. "We really are obligated to take other steps before removing the child."