Slain girl's family says Cleveland school should've notified them sooner of her absence

/ CBS News

Alianna DeFreeze Cleveland 19 News/Family

Lawyers for the family of a Cleveland girl who was abducted on her way to school and later found killed have sued the teen's school, claiming staff there never told the family she was absent — a notification they say might have saved her life.

The body of Alianna DeFreeze, 14, was found in a vacant house Jan. 29, 2017, three days after her mother called police when she realized the girl had never shown up to school. Christopher Whitaker, 45, a registered sex offender, was convicted in 2018 of abducting and raping the girl and fatally stabbing and bludgeoning her. He was sentenced to death and awaits execution on Ohio's death row.

Alianna, who had a developmental disability, was last seen getting off a city Regional Transit Authority bus on her way to school around 7 a.m. the morning of Jan. 26, 2017.

As she was walking away from the bus stop, Whitaker started following her, and ultimately forced her into the abandoned home, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit claimed the school, E Prep & Village Prep Woodland Hills, never notified the girl's family she hadn't shown up until her mother called around 4 p.m. that day because the girl didn't arrive home.

The suit said the family was signed up to receive text message alerts from the school, including about unexcused absences, and had expected they'd be notified if the she was absent.

The lawsuit also said school officials should've been immediately concerned because of Alianna's developmental disability and because it was uncharacteristic of her to miss school. It said the school's failure to notify the family delayed the family in reporting the girl missing to police, and prevented investigators from launching "an immediate and possibly life-saving search for Alianna."

The delay "significantly and materially lowered the chances of the police finding Alianna alive," the lawsuit read.

The lawsuit alleged because of the school system's negligence, the last hours of the girl's life "were spent in excruciating, paralyzing, debilitating and unthinkable physical and mental pain."

The lawsuit also claimed the school system lied when they said they had attempted to send an alert through their text message notification system, but it failed.

Operators of the school told The Associated Press they can't comment on the lawsuit and they've tried to be supportive to Alianna's parents since her death.

christopherwhitaker1.jpg
Christopher Whitaker Ohio Attorney General

Authorities have said Whitaker's DNA matched evidence from the slaying. Whitaker told investigators he was high on cocaine and blacked out.

Whitaker apologized to the family during his trial's penalty phase.

"There is no excuse for what I've done," he said.

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First published on January 30, 2019

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