The day that Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook left their home to kill 14 people in San Bernardino, they left their six-month-old daughter with Farook’s mother.
By the time the day ended, Malik and Farook were dead. The baby became an orphan.
Now the child is at the center of a court case that will determine who will raise her.
Aunt Seeking Custody
The baby’s aunt, Saria Khan–the older sister of Farook–and her husband, Farhan Khan, are seeking custody of the unnamed baby.
She told ABC that she couldn’t understand how her brother and sister-in-law could do what they did, much less leave a child behind.
“How can he leave his only child, you know? And how could the mother do this?” she said.
She believes she and her husband can give the orphan “a stable upbringing.
“For the time being, we want her to enjoy her innocence,” she said. “You know, we don’t want her to know everything, but I think eventually she will find out probably on her own.”
But right now, while the baby’s whereabouts are unclear, the local Council on America-Islamic Relations says that the county’s Child Protective Services have custody of her. The group, whose attorney is representing Khan, added that she will soon be placed with a Muslim foster family, while it works to reunite her with family members.
Baby Should be Placed With Family Member
Richard Wexler, executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, told the Washington Post that the baby should be placed with a relative immediately.
“It shouldn’t be taking them this long,” Wexler said about the decision where to place the infant. “What’s taking so long is the fear of public backlash. There frankly shouldn’t be an issue unless there is strong evidence the relatives were involved with the plot.”
In a typical case, Rafia Farook–Farook’s mother, who lived with the couple–would assume custody. But officials suspect some of Farook’s family was aware of the terror plot, and Rafia’s at the top of the list since she resided in the same house that police found numerous pipe bombs and other weapons. She has not commented publicly on the allegations.
However, in a case like this where the grandmother is ruled out, the baby should then go to another family member, Wexler said.
“You have an infant who has no idea what is going on,” Wexler said. “All she knows is that the people she counted on for love and nurturing are gone… Being removed from parents is traumatic for any child, and the younger the child, the greater the trauma. The trauma is compounded when the placement is with strangers, and compounded again if the child is moved from home to home, as often happens when children are placed with strangers.”
Baby Could Be Placed Outside Family
But California-based criminal defense attorney Troy Slaten told Fox News that since investigators are dubious of the claims of total ignorance by all close family members, the Family Court judge could decide it is in the best interests of the baby for her to not be raised by blood relatives.
“If there is any evidence of even tacit knowledge, involvement or participation, it would certainly give a Family Court judge concern over placing a child in that environment,” Slaten said.
Fellow attorney David Wohl, who has 25 years working on family custody cases in the Riverside area, added that the “idea that the family of terrorists knew nothing about their propensity toward jihad or their plans is absurd.”
“I doubt very much the child in question will be placed with the family members,” he said, adding that thorough background checks and home evaluations are critical before any such placements can occur and that the process could take “months” as all relatives will need to be evaluated coinciding with the terrorist investigation and who knew what.
“They will also have to do a background check that could include information as to what the people did before they immigrated to the U.S.,” he said. “Were they a member of a radical mosque, etc.? That could take weeks and even months to evaluate.”
A custody hearing was held on December 7 but no long-term decision was made. Another hearing has been scheduled for next month, reported the Associated Press.
A spokesperson for Child Protective Services declined to comment on the case.