NEWARK, N.J. – A New Jersey man pleaded not guilty Thursday after police say he told them he threw his 3-month-old daughter off a bridge, as searchers and relatives held out hope that the infant might still be found alive.
Shamsid-Din Abdur-Raheem, 21, of Galloway Township, appeared composed during his arraignment in Newark via video link from the Essex County jail, where he is being held on $700,000 cash bail. Public defender Regina Lynch entered the plea on his behalf.
Abdur-Raheem is charged with attempted murder on accusations that he assaulted the baby's maternal grandmother after showing up at her home and snatching the girl, Zara Malani-lin Abdur, from her arms Tuesday afternoon. He is also charged with kidnapping, two assault counts and child endangerment.
Police say Abdur-Raheem forced his way into the grandmother's East Orange apartment around 4 p.m. Tuesday, striking her in the face, choking her and pulling the baby from her arms before fleeing in a van.
The 60-year-old grandmother, whom police declined to identify, chased after Abdur-Raheem and was struck when she tried to stop him by throwing herself in the path of his vehicle, authorities said. Abdur-Raheem then headed toward southern New Jersey, and police say he told them he tossed the child from the Garden State Parkway's Driscoll Bridge, over the Raritan River, on his way.
Search teams using boats, helicopters and dogs found no sign of the baby as the search entered its third day Thursday. State Police Sgt. Julian Castellanos said the mission was still a rescue attempt even though the odds of a baby surviving that long were slim.
The child's mother, Venetta Benjamin, had no visible reaction Thursday as she watched Abdur-Raheem, clad in an orange jail jumpsuit, answer questions on the video screen in court. She left the court, accompanied by a woman in a priest's collar and other relatives, without commenting.
Officials say Benjamin, who has sole custody of the infant, had sought a restraining order against Abdur-Raheem around the same time Tuesday afternoon that he is accused of showing up at her mother's East Orange apartment. Benjamin's lawyer, Mitchell Liebowitz, said the baby was snatched before the restraining order was served.
New Jersey's acting attorney general, Paula Dow, has classified the case as severe domestic violence.
Abdur-Raheem's father, Mushin Raheem, said the relationship between his son and Benjamin, who are not married, had been bumpy since they started dating as freshmen at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
"They had their problems, you know what I mean?" Raheem said, saying his son could get angry but not unusually so.
"Everybody has a temper," he said. "He's mad, you get mad, you know."
Raheem said his son and Benjamin moved into an apartment together in Galloway Township about two weeks ago. She moved out within a week, Raheem said, going to live with her mother.
Raheem said that the couple had brought the baby to his home four or five times, and that the idea that his granddaughter could be dead was weighing heavily.
"Man, I'm distraught," he said. "I'm distraught."
Raheem said that Amin Muhammad, an Atlantic City imam who was close to his son, brought the young man to his father's home Tuesday night. Police arrested Raheem there later.
He wouldn't say what his son, who aspired to go into criminal law, told him then.
"It's very difficult," Raheem said. "Everybody in my family's hurt by this."
Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield, N.J.