- (Photo: AP Images / Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda, Pool)
Ohio can take custody of a Christian teen who ran away to Florida in fear of her life, a judge ruled Thursday.
Until the immigration status of 17-year-old Rifqa Bary is confirmed, the Franklin County Children's Services agency will take custody of her, ordered Franklin County Juvenile Court Magistrate Mary Goodrich.
Earlier this week, Goodrich and a judge in Florida had agreed following weeks of discussion that Bary would return to her home state of Ohio after having run away in July for fear of being physically harmed by her Muslim parents for converting to Christianity.
In a court filing, Bary claimed her father had said, "If you have this Jesus in your heart, you are dead to me!" and also added some time later, "I will kill you!"
Rifqa’s father, Mohamed Bary, however, has vehemently denied ever threatening to kill his daughter for converting to Christianity and accuses the pastors she stayed with in Florida of “brainwashing” his daughter into believing she was in danger of an "honor killing."
Since August, Bary has been involved in a legal battle with her parents, who are trying to regain custody of her.
Though it was decided this week that Bary is under the jurisdiction of Ohio and not Florida, where the case has been heard, Florida circuit Judge Daniel Dawson required the teen's parents to provide documents that prove they are legal residents in the United States. Bary’s temporary guardian raised concern that if the teen is staying illegally in the United States, she could be sent back to Sri Lanka where her family is originally from.
John Stemberger, Bary’s attorney, said his client’s immigration status is “very critical” as her conversion has been made public to the world.
"The reason Rifqa left [home] is that her parents threatened to send her back to Sri Lanka. It's probably the place where she's most at risk for being killed, or harmed or put in an insane asylum," he said.
In many countries, such as Sri Lanka, women who stray from strict cultural upbringings are often accused of bringing dishonor upon the family and are cast out or even killed.
Despite Bary’s claims, however, investigators from both states have reported that they found no “credible” evidence that the teen convert is in danger of being harmed by her father.
The next hearing on the case is set for Oct. 27 in Ohio.