Rifqa Bary, parents back in court

The Columbus Dispatch/March 2, 2010

A Franklin County Juvenile Court judge attempted to calm the conflict between Fathima Rifqa Bary and her parents at a 3-hour-long hearing today.

Judge Elizabeth Gill reiterated the need for Rifqa, 17, and her parents to resolve their issues through counseling, not in court. She dismissed a motion by Rifqas parents, Mohamed and Aysha Bary, to set aside a Jan. 19 agreement to follow a Franklin County Children Services case plan.

That plan, which calls for counseling and the possibility of visitation between Rifqa and her parents, sets the goal of reunification.

The Barys agreed to keep Rifqa in foster care and undergo counseling but wanted to retract their agreement when they found out she was being allowed contact with the pair of Florida pastors she stayed with after running away from her Northeast Side home in July. They wanted a trial.

Blake and Beverly Lorenz are under criminal investigation in Florida for their role in housing Rifqa, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman said yesterday.

The Barys attorney, Omar Tarazi, wanted to stop that contact, but it appears it will continue with the approval of Rifqas mental-health counselor. The parties had agreed in December that Rifqa could not speak to the Lorenzes until the counselor approved the contact.

Gill ordered counselors for Rifqa and her parents to propose recommendations related to her contact with the Lorenzes and others suspected of helping the teen run away. The judge told the attorneys need to present any evidence of wrongdoing or criminal investigations to Franklin County Children Services, which has custody of the girl.

Tarazi also said Rifqa has seen Brian Williams, an aspiring pastor who drove her to the Downtown Greyhound station, at a church called the International House of Prayer.

The Columbus Police Division is investigating whether there was any criminal wrongdoing with anyone involved in getting her from one location to another, Sgt. Rich Weiner said Friday.

Gill asked the parties to return in April for an update on the progress of the counseling.

Rifqa turns 18 on Aug. 10; Franklin County Children Services then will give up custody.

Her attorney, Angela Lloyd, said Rifqa is an undocumented immigrant and expressed concern about her legal status.

Lloyd said Rifqas parents are pursuing what she called their own immigration relief. The family is from Sri Lanka, and their immigration status has been unclear.

Supporters of Rifqa from as far away as Texas and Florida are at the hearing.

Rifqa accused her father of threatening to kill her for converting from Islam to Christianity. But authorities in Florida and Ohio did not find any credible threat to her safety.

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