Police have reunited a 9-year-old girl with her biological mother and arrested a former Harford County woman on charges that she used an elaborate forgery scheme to abduct the girl.
Yesterday, Donna L. Snyder said her daughter, Caitlyn Crowther, is in good health and glad to be home after months of separation. Snyder lashed out at the judicial system, which she believes is responsible for the abduction.
"How can a grandparent have a hard time getting custody of a grandchild, but a complete stranger can get custody of someone's child?" Snyder asked.
Caitlyn Crowther returned home and saw her mother for the first time in nearly a year Wednesday afternoon after police, acting on a tip, found the girl and Maria L. Baughman, 49, in Hampton, Va.
Baughman, a former Abingdon resident, waived an extradition hearing after Harford County sheriff's detectives and FBI agents arrested her in Virginia. She will be formally charged with child stealing, a felony, when she is returned to Maryland in about a week, said Lt. Edward Hopkins, a spokesman for the Harford County sheriff's office.
"We had a tip called in to us recently, and we acted on the tip, and it led us to her," Hopkins, said.
The case involving Caitlyn Crowther began in 1995 when Snyder - then a single mother working two jobs - agreed to let her daughter stay with Baughman at Baughman's home in Middle River. Snyder, now 28, was working long hours during the week but visited Caitlyn every weekend.
Snyder - who does not want her address made public because she fears for her daughter's safety - said she met Baughman through a mutual friend and decided "she seemed like the perfect baby sitter."
At the end of 1996, Baughman went to Baltimore Circuit Court with forged documents and signatures and persuaded Judge Joseph P. McCurdy that Snyder was giving up her custodial rights, police said. Baughman produced two forged documents claiming Caitlyn's mother and father no longer wanted their child, Snyder said.
She said the court never notified her or Caitlyn's father of the custody hearing.
"If you have two parents in the same state that are agreeing to give up custody and this someone goes to a courtroom, why would a judge not want to speak to one of the parents?" Snyder asked yesterday. "Why wouldn't they bring you into the courtroom.
McCurdy was unavailable for comment yesterday. His secretary said he "had no recollection of the case."
Baughman was granted custody of Caitlyn in 1997 and immediately informed Snyder, who called Baltimore County police in an attempt to get her daughter back. Police dismissed the call when Baughman showed them custodial documents from the court, Snyder said.
Snyder said she did not have money at the time to challenge what she thought was a legitimate court order.
Snyder continued to visit her daughter and was scheduled to take her on vacation to Florida in June last year. But when she showed up at Baughman's Middle River home to pick up Caitlyn, Snyder found they had moved.
Snyder hired an attorney, who determined that Baughman had apparently used deception to win custody of Caitlyn.
At the same time, Harford County sheriff's deputies and U.S. postal inspectors began investigating Baughman - who had moved to the 4000 block of Sharilyn Drive in Abingdon - on suspicion of stealing her neighbors' mail. Authorities did not realize at the time that Caitlyn had allegedly been abducted.
Snyder won custody of her daughter in February but was unable to find the child. She contacted the U.S. Postal Inspector's Office and was told that Baughman was living in Abingdon. Authorities then found that Baughman and Caitlyn had moved.
Snyder said yesterday that her daughter told her she had moved from Harford County to Baltimore. They then moved to the Villages of Tall Trees apartment complex in eastern Baltimore County before fleeing to Virginia in mid-April.
"She told Caitlyn that I did not want her," Snyder said. "She told her I was a bad mother, a drug addict and alcoholic, none of which is true."
Snyder said her daughter has not attended school since December and was forced to stay indoors for most of the past six months.
She said Baughman frequently dyed the girl's hair to avoid being noticed.
Snyder said Baughman told her in 1995 that her three biological daughters were killed in a fiery car accident. Snyder said she recently found out that Baughman's biological children were living with someone else in West Virginia.
"I think she wanted to try [being a parent] with my child," Snyder said.
Baughman could face up to 20 years in prison if she is convicted on the child-stealing charge.
A grand jury is investigating whether Baughman stole thousands of dollars from former neighbors by stealing their mail, Hopkins said. In addition, four outstanding warrants against her exist in Baltimore County on theft and fraud charges.
"I think everyone should be leery of who their kids stay with," Snyder said.