PHILADELPHIA -- A New York City couple took their eight children from foster care and went on the run because some of them were being abused, their lawyer said Tuesday.
A day after the family was found safe in their van in Harrisburg, Pa., defense lawyer Norman Steiner alleged that one boy was molested and some of his siblings "suffered horrendous abuse" during two years in foster care. "I expect them to be fully exonerated of this. If your child is in a dangerous place and you get them out of it, that's not kidnapping, that's justified," Steiner said.
The mother, 28-year-old Shanel Nadal, allegedly fled with the children during a supervised visit at a Queens foster-care agency and left town with her husband, 34-year-old Nephra Payne.
Police initially thought the family might go to South Carolina, where they once lived. By Monday, the U.S. Marshals Service learned the family might be heading to Harrisburg, where Payne has relatives. Investigators spotted the parked van on a city street Monday night.
The parents will be charged with kidnapping, custodial interference and child endangerment, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said.
"This is a sad story of a mother and father who have jeopardized their children's safety by allegedly kidnapping them and taking them out of state," Brown said. "These parents have now also put at risk the very relationships they were supposed to be building with their children during their supervised visits."
The parents were in custody in Harrisburg, awaiting extradition hearings. The children -- seven boys named Nephra, who have different middle names, and an infant daughter -- appeared to be unharmed. The range in age from 11 months to 12 years, according to the police complaint. They will be returned to New York City, under the care of the Administration for Children's Services.
The agency said it was aware of the parents' abuse allegations and was focusing on the children's mental-health needs. "We are aware of the allegations currently being made by the parents and we take all allegations of abuse seriously. Our immediate concerns are for the well-being of the children," the agency said in a statement.
The agency also is investigating how the children were abducted during a supervised visit, a spokesman said.
Authorities had been hunting for the children since Sept. 19, when they disappeared from the 3-acre campus of Forestdale, a nonprofit, privately run foster care center.
Nadal went there for a scheduled group visit with the children, who were living with three different foster caregivers. Despite the presence of Forestdale staff and at least some of the foster parents, Nadal slipped away unnoticed with the children during a trip to a vending machine, police said.
Forestdale officials wouldn't discuss the situation, but the agency's executive director, Anstiss Agnew, told The New York Times last week that neither the family visits nor the facility were set up with security in mind.