Runaway Christian Convert To Stay In Orlando

September 4th, 2009 by

ORLANDO, Fla. – A judge ruled late Thursday afternoon that a 17-year-old girl, who converted from Islam to Christianity and then ran away from her home in Ohio and took a bus to Orlando, will stay in Central Florida for now in foster care. The judge ruled to seal a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report for 10 days Thursday, a report that the defense says clears Rifqa Bary’s parents of any wrongdoing.

The issue in court was whether there was a legitimate threat that should keep 17-year-old Rifqa Bary from being forced to return home to her parents near Columbus, Ohio. Walking into court Thursday, the attorney for the girl’s father, Shayan Elahior, said he expected a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report to clear the parents of wrongdoing.
“It seems to me it’s an all clear. That’s what we got from child protective services in Ohio; they gave a green light. They investigated from the day as far back as the allegation date on August,” Elahior said.

The report is currently not public, but the attorney for Rifqa’s parents wants it to be public and says the judge should not gag them after the allegations that were made.

What’s in the FDLE report is considered favorable to the parents by their attorneys at this point. The report was created because of serious allegations of death threats due to Rifqa’s conversion to Christianity.

“Reasons and allegations and concerns that were so far out of our area of expertise and jurisdiction that, to ensure her safety, we needed to involve law enforcement,” DCF spokesperson Carrie Hoeppner said.

“We have a favorable report. Their indication of any evidence of these allegations, your honor, I asked you strike this,” Rifqa’s mother’s attorney Roger Weedon said.

Minutes after a judge said only the parties involved could be privileged to the FDLE report’s information, one of Rifqa’s parents’ attorneys blurted out some of the findings. Soon after, 17-year-old Rifqa Bary became upset and wiped tears away from her face.

The judge also ruled the attorneys were not allowed to talk about the specifics of the case after Krista Bartholomew, guardian ad litem, said both sides were trashing each other in media.

“I have some concerns when the child is calling me frantically after seeing media report,” Bartholomew said.

During the proceedings, the parents officially denied any allegations of abuse. A judge ordered all the parties to go to mediation within 30 days. Rifqa’s parent’s attorneys tried to bring up jurisdiction issues again, but the judge said another hearing needed to be scheduled and the case will go forward in Florida.

Bary will stay in foster care, continue with home schooling and go to counseling.

A pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for September 29. The judge has said, if Ohio opens any court proceedings, the judge would revisit jurisdiction. Children Services in Ohio says it has no plans to open a case.

Rifqa’s parents, Mohamed and Aysha Bary, spoke out on Good Morning America Thursday (watch interview) and said she has been brainwashed by extreme fundamentalists.

“I don’t believe my daughter would say this. She’s completely being coached, I mean, trained, influenced by these people. It’s so sad,” Mohamed Bary said.

“This is a serious allegation that she’s making against you,” GMA reporter Dan Harris stated.

“It’s not true. It’s not true,” Bary replied.

“None of it?” Harris asked.

“None of it is true,” replied Bary.

An attorney for local media outlets was expected to challenge the order in court.

The teen ran away to Florida in July, saying she feared being killed for changing religions. She was taken in by in by Pastor Blake Lorenz and his wife Beverly, who Rifqa had met online. Lorenz and his wife are members of the Global Revolution Church.

Rifqa Bary’s attorney, John Stemberger, a conservative Christian who is also the head of the Florida Family Council, filed a memorandum with the court alleging the parents attended a mosque that had ties to terrorists.

The young religious runaway got the Lorenz family involved in the ordeal when she sought refuge at their Orlando house.

Eyewitness News released video (watch interview) of Rifqa Bary leaning on Pastor Blake Lorenz for support. The Lorenz family hold their church services at an International Drive movie theater, but it’s the real life drama that has them defending what they did. Some say even if they broke the law by taking the girl in, they might not have to answer for it in court.


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