Fathima Rifqa Bary, the Ohio teenage runaway whose story of Muslim-to-Christianity conversion and charges of family abuse sparked debates about personal freedom, is going back to her home state.
Three months after Rifqa took a Greyhound bus to Orlando and sought shelter with pastors she had never met, an Orange County Circuit judge on Friday ordered the Florida Department of Children and Families to send the girl back to Ohio.
Dawson [Orange County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Dawson] last week decided Rifqa’s case belonged in an Ohio court and asked that lawyers provide documentation regarding her education and immigration before he sent her home.
The teen has been living with a foster family in Central Florida. Ohio officials have indicated that she will be placed with a foster family in that state. It is not clear when–or if–she will live with her own family again.
Rifqa’s father, Mohamed Bary, was laughing and giddy during a brief Friday afternoon phone call with the Orlando Sentinel. He would not comment, though, citing a gag order.
Rifqa has been in Central Florida since she ran away from her Columbus-area home in mid-July. Her story became public when a custody battle ensued in an Orange County courtroom, and it quickly gained national media attention because of her allegations against her Muslim father.
The petite girl, who was 16 when she ran away, said she feared Mohamed Bary would harm or kill her because she converted to Christianity.
Investigators in Florida and Ohio have found no credible threats against Rifqa, and her family has also denied such threats.
Her first two weeks in Orlando she lived with Blake and Beverly Lorenz, longtime Central Florida pastors whom she met through a Christian group on the social networking site Facebook.
On Aug. 10–her 17th birthday–an Orange County judge ordered her into DCF emergency custody. She has been in foster care in Central Florida since.
On Friday, Jamal Jivanjee, who used to pastor a church in the Columbus area and is one of Rifqa’s friends and supporters, said the teen does not want to return to Ohio.
“She’s a strong girl by nature,” said Jivanjee, who now directs a Christian ministry in Tennessee. But he said, “She is definitely fearful. She is fearful about going back.”
[Editors Note: An earlier story about Rifqa Bary can be read here.]