Six years ago, a 12-year-old girl with mild mental retardation charged that seven boys attacked and sexually assaulted her in a math class at Southeast Middle School in Baltimore. She and her mother won a $100,000 judgment against the city school system, the maximum permitted by law.
But the incident left Brittany Banks, now 18, so traumatized that she spent most of her adolescence in and out of psychiatric facilities and is unable to live at home. And on Sept. 10, according to her mother, she was permitted to walk out of a group home in Prince George's County where she was supposed to be under 24-hour supervision. She has been missing ever since.
"I'm scared out of my mind," said the mother, Bridget Banks, an administrative assistant at Morgan State University who is asking the news media for help as she tries to find her daughter.
Bridget Banks said Brittany is about 5-foot-4 and 200 pounds, with a weave in her hair. About 10 p.m. that Wednesday, she said, Brittany walked out of the group home, where she had lived since June. The group home agency, All That Matters, fired the employee who was supposed to be supervising, Bridget Banks said.
The director of the group home agency declined to comment.
Because of her daughter's extensive psychiatric problems after the attack, Bridget Banks felt she could not safely care for her. The Baltimore City Department of Social Services took custody, and when the teen turned 18 this year, Brittany Banks voluntarily committed herself to DSS's care. She has been working toward earning a high school diploma. As an adult, she can voluntarily leave at any time.
Nancy Lineman, a spokeswoman for DSS, said Brittany is considered a runaway. Prince George's County police secured a runaway warrant because of concerns about her safety. DSS is in charge of searching for her.
"We get a police report and search any known addresses to find the person in our care," Lineman said. "We followed that procedure in this case and, unfortunately, we've not yet located Ms. Banks."
Bridget Banks said she understands the agencies are following protocol for runaways, but she wishes they would pay her daughter's case more attention because of her troubled history. She was upset that the police detective assigned to the case did not ask for a photo of Brittany.
"How can you be looking for my child and you don't know what she looks like?" the mother asked.
A spokesman for the Prince George's Police Department said the department was unable to comment yesterday.
Bridget Banks said she had been pushing DSS to put Brittany in a locked psychiatric facility. She said her daughter has disappeared before, but never for more than a few days. She is particularly worried that Brittany, who is classified as mentally disturbed, left the group home without the two psychotropic drugs she's supposed to be taking. She has in the past exhibited suicidal and homicidal tendencies, her mother said.
Brittany did have her cell phone on her when she left the group home, Bridget Banks said. The mother knows the password to access the phone's voicemail and says someone has been checking it daily. She has left many unreturned messages pleading for Brittany to call. "I just feel something is wrong," she said.
A single mother with no other children, Bridget Banks noticed delays in her daughter's development from a young age and sought help for her before she turned 2. But she said Brittany never exhibited serious behavioral problems before she was attacked on Nov. 27, 2002.
On that day, Brittany was sitting in the back of a special education math class where she was the only girl among seven boys. According to the lawsuit the Banks family filed in 2005, a boy went to the back of the room and began fondling her breasts. She called out to the teacher, who continued with her lesson, the suit says. The teacher has since died.
The suit alleges that six more boys became involved, threw the girl down, and were on top of her. They pinned her arms and legs as they continued to fondle her and tried to pull off her pants. The girl eventually kicked and screamed enough to get the boys off her and threw chairs and desks to get them away.
The attack did not involve rape.
The school initially wrote Brittany up for suspension, and according to the lawsuit, no one from the school contacted police, which is required when there's an allegation of sexual assault. When mother and daughter sued, the school system made the argument in court that Brittany had provoked the attack.
In the summer of 2007, Bridget and Brittany Banks won a $100,000 judgment after a jury trial in Baltimore Circuit Court. The system dropped its appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals after The Sun wrote about the case last November.
Until now, the newspaper has not named Brittany because she is the victim of an alleged sexual assault. Her mother asked that she be named so the public can help in trying to locate her.
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Brittany Banks is asked to call the DSS intake hotline at 410-361-2235.
Nov. 27, 2002: Brittany Banks is allegedly sexually assaulted as a 12-year-old in a math class for special education students at Southeast Middle School.
2003: Brittany is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is hospitalized seven times in five months. She begins to exhibit suicidal and homicidal tendencies, and eventually, her mother turns custody of her over to the state.
2005: Brittany and her mother, Bridget Banks, sue the city school system.
2007: Brittany and her mother win a $100,000 judgment. The system initially appeals but later drops the appeal.
Sept. 10, 2008: About 10 p.m., Brittany walks out of her group home in Prince George's County. Anyone with knowledge of her whereabouts is asked to call the Baltimore City Department of Social Services intake line at 410-361-2235.