Little Eriona Birts, 6, a first-grader at Friendship Public Charter School in Northeast Washington spent the afternoon of Feb. 16 playing games and eating pizza at a welcome home party at the Chuck E. Cheese’s in Largo, Md.
It was a special celebration orchestrated by her father, Eric Birts, who had spent many frantic moments trying to get her back after her mother allegedly took her from the District to Arkansas earlier in the month without authorization.
Her mother, Ebony Anderson, 26, is believed to have taken Eriona on Jan. 31 from her D.C. neighborhood to Little Rock, Ark. The father and daughter were reunited on Feb. 8 after police from D.C. and Little Rock searched for the missing girl and her mother.
Eric Birts, a 33-year-old Iraqi war veteran, and Anderson are married, but separated in 2006, the same year Eriona was born, he said. Birts told the AFRO he has had full custody of his daughter since then and claimed that her mother has never shared in the child-rearing responsibilities. According to Birts, Anderson is a rapper. He said a close associate of hers has encouraged her to spend more time with her daughter. The man allegedly drove Anderson to Washington to spend a few days with her daughter at the end of January.
On the evening of Jan. 31 Anderson was going to a nearby grocery store and Birts allowed Eriona to go with her, he said. He grew concerned when he did not hear from Anderson after an extended length of time and started to worry. He said he called and texted Anderson for three hours but got no response. At approximately 10:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, he called D.C. police to report Eriona missing.
“I finally got a text around 12:30 a.m. replying that she had gone, taken my daughter and I would never see her again,” said Birts of his alleged conversation with Anderson.
D.C. police told Birts he could not immediately get his daughter back unless he established temporary custody of Eriona. He went to D.C. Superior Court the next morning to do that and followed up with authorities on his missing daughter.
D.C. police tracked Anderson’s movement via her cell phone, according to Birts.
They discovered Anderson and her boyfriend had driven to Little Rock, Anderson’s hometown, with Eriona in tow.
D.C. police issued a critical missing person alert on Feb. 4, asserting the child might have left the city with a noncustodial parent. On Feb. 5 a warrant was issued for Anderson’s arrest. She voluntarily turned herself in to Little Rock Police later that day and told them she was wanted in the District for parental kidnapping, according to the Little Rock CBS TV station.
In an article in Arkansas Matters, Eriona’s grandmother Ginny Morrison, of Little Rock, shared her thoughts on the ordeal.
“She loves her kids dearly,” Morrison was quoted as saying about Anderson. “It's just right now her lifestyle is not desirable for a child. We thought she was going to move up to D.C. so she could be closer to Eriona. But she had no intention of moving up there. She went up there to take her away."
Eriona spent a day in the custody of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) before she was released back into her father’s care.
“[In] Little Rock, I had to go to court for a judge to give me legal custody again, even although I already had temporary legal custody in D.C.,” Birts said.
The child seemed to suffer no ill effects, he said.
“She was very happy. She didn’t look like she went through anything,” Birts said. “She acted like she was just on a small vacation.”