Father of missing NJ baby charged with murder

Published February 25, 2010

NEWARK, N.J. – A New Jersey man was charged Wednesday with murder for allegedly throwing his 3-month-old daughter off a highway bridge into an icy river last week.

Shamsid-Din Abdur-Raheem, of Galloway Township, assaulted the child's maternal grandmother at her East Orange apartment and ripped the child from her arms on Feb. 16, the same day the girl's mother sought a restraining order against him, police said.

Attorney General Paula Dow said the search for the baby was ongoing. Despite the lack of a body, Dow said there was enough evidence to file a first-degree murder charge.

"While our ongoing exhaustive search has not located the victim, we are moving forward with our investigation and our pursuit of justice in this tragic case of domestic violence," Dow said in a statement.

Abdur-Raheem pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other charges filed last week. Tom Rosenthal, a spokesman for the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, which is representing Abdur-Raheem, said the office had just received the case file Wednesday and that it was too early to comment on the new count.

Abdur-Raheem remains in the Essex County jail. His bail has been increased to $2 million on the new charge, which was filed in Middlesex County and carries a possible sentence of 30 years to life in prison.

The search for the baby, Zara Malani-lin Abdur, has centered around the Garden State Parkway's Driscoll Bridge, which spans the Raritan River between Sayreville and Woodbridge.

The child's mother, Venetta Benjamin, had sole custody and had left the infant in her mother's care while she sought a restraining order against Abdur-Raheem in a Newark court.

Abdur-Raheem allegedly abducted the child from her grandmother's home around 4 p.m. on Feb. 16, choking and assaulting the woman and then striking her with his van as she attempted to block his escape, authorities said.

Abdur-Raheem parked his vehicle on the southbound shoulder of the highway and then pushed, threw or dropped the baby from the front passenger window and into the river, state police said in a complaint that cited investigators' findings and statements from Abdur-Raheem and witnesses.

He was arrested after 8 p.m. at the home of a family member who had called police.

Benjamin's attorney, Mitchell Liebowitz, said Monday that police protocol was violated when Benjamin sought the protection order. She went to East Orange police on Feb. 15 and was told Family Court was closed and that she should return the next day, Liebowitz said.

The East Orange police chief and Dow's office said they are investigating the claim. Benjamin got the order on Feb. 16, but police say Abdur-Raheem took the child before it could be served.

The case also prompted the attorney general's office to review state guidelines for the issuance of Amber Alerts, after questions arose as to why no alert was issued during the 4-hour window between the abduction and the arrest.

Amber Alerts, issued by law enforcement and distributed through emergency broadcasting networks, are meant to tell the public about child-abduction cases.

Spokesman Paul Loriquet said such alerts are not routinely issued in custody disputes or parental abduction cases, so as not to overwhelm the emergency broadcast system or lessen the impact of the alerts on the public.

He said the attorney general's office was considering expanding the rules pertaining to family abductions, improving law enforcement training on the alerts and providing an updated list of questions to dispatchers and others to help determine if an abducted child faces an immediate physical threat.

"The (guidelines) were carefully crafted from the onset," Loriquet said. "This particular case has us saying perhaps we have to revisit, and tweak them a bit."

Written by SAMANTHA HENRY, Associated Press Writer

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