For six years, Shelli Ridge has been haunted by the child abuse she suspected was occurring next door
when she lived in the Woodman Park Apartments in Dayton’s Eastern Hills neighborhood.
Ridge — then an 18-year-old premed student at Wright State University — was concerned about the little girl, who was about 3 years old, whose screams she heard often.
“I frequently heard a lot of commotion, a lot of kids crying,” said Ridge, who is four months from graduating from Ohio University’s medical school, where she is studying to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine. “I heard the little girl scream at one point and say, ‘Mommy, don’t hit me.’ ”
At least twice, Ridge called 911 to report her suspicions,
urged to do so by her mother, Lori Wulf, a registered nurse at Miami Valley Hospital, who told her daughter the police would contact Montgomery County Children Services.
Ridge said she never saw a police car come out to investigate and was left to wonder what happened to the girl and the other children living in the apartment at 4825 Hassan Circle after she had moved away a year later.
On Wednesday, while working at a hospital in Sandusky, Ridge received an urgent text message from her mother in Miamisburg. She had read the news that her daughter’s former neighbors, Brian Hart, 50, and his wife, Rivae L. Hart, 49, were indicted Feb. 4 on felony charges of kidnapping and child endangering.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Wulf, who texted her daughter: “SHELLI!!! Your neighbor from college was arrested for keeping the little girl locked in the bathroom.”
Ridge said she found news about the child’s ordeal upsetting.
“I was very upset in the sense I was there years ago. I called police,” she said. “It could have been much less (time in captivity) if someone had followed through with my phone calls.”
Wulf said her daughter has “lamented” about the situation ever since.
The Harts became legal guardians of their grandchildren — the girl and her 8-year-old brother in 2004, said Ann Stevens, spokeswoman for Montgomery County Job and Family Services. The Harts’ two biological sons, ages 12 and 14, also lived at the family’s apartment. All four are now in foster care.
Stevens said all they know is that the girl’s parents lived in another state and that custody shifted to the grandparents between 2003 and 2004
. Job and Family Services is searching to find those parents.
“We don’t have a clue where they are,”
said Stevens, adding that the Harts have no known relatives in the Dayton area.
Ridge said she once confronted Rivae Hart after she heard the little girl scream. Ridge said she knocked on their door and said, “I know what you are doing in there and if you don’t stop, I will call the police.”
Ridge said Rivae Hart came to the door and denied anything was happening.
The two exchanged words and Ridge said she called the police when she returned home.
A search of the Dayton police information system Wednesday found no record of Ridge’s calls.
But there were police reports filed by the Harts.
In 2004, Hart told a police officer that someone made a false allegation of child neglect
to Montgomery County Children Services. All phone calls to children services and police were anonymous, but Rivae Hart told the officer she suspected a neighbor, but couldn’t prove it.
In 2008, Brian Hart reported he was getting harassing phone calls from an anonymous male. He played a voice-mail message of a man yelling obscenities, according to that police report.
According to Tolpin, the girl confided in some adults when she was in the first grade, but nothing happened so she distrusted adults
. He said Wednesday he does not know who the girl talked to three years ago. The girl disclosed the earlier attempt during the interview process.
“If somebody dropped the ball, we don’t want it happening again,” he said.
Everything else the girl has disclosed “has really been spot on,” in terms of corroboration with other evidence, Tolpin said.
Shawna Welch, principal at Wright Brothers PreK-8 School at Grant where the girl excelled in school making honor roll every quarter but the last one, said the child never talked about it with any of her teachers.
But she did feel comfortable confiding in school nurse Linda Eads, who worked for the Dayton Public Schools since 1995, according to Marianne Urban, director of health services for the district.
Welch called Eads a strong advocate for children who contacted Family Services on Jan. 18 and was persistent in following up with the agency.
“I have to give credit to my school nurse, who is very adamant about not letting something lay on someone’s desk and not being taken care of,” Welch said.