He says it was all her idea.
After eluding a nationwide dragnet for two months, Harlem gym teacher Glenn Harris insisted he took a 15-year-old student across the country to help her escape years of abuse.
Held without bail on kidnapping charges Tuesday night, the lovestruck 33-year-old described Christina Rosado as “a beautiful person” who wanted to run away from abusive parents, and he portrayed himself as her protector.
Christina was expected to arrive at Newark International Airport in New Jersey Tuesday night aboard United Flight 362 from Las Vegas, but she was taken off the plane in Denver when a New York Post photographer “hounded” her, according to a flight attendant from that flight.
The pair had been the subject of a nationwide search since they disappeared March 8. They were last seen at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas April 17. Harris and his lawyers declined to answer questions Tuesday about whether there was a sexual relationship between the couple, but, as they awaited the girl’s arrival from Nevada, law enforcement officials and Christina’s mother scoffed at Harris’ portrayal of parental abuse.
“My daughter has not been abused. She had everything she wanted,” insisted Christina’s mother, Luz Diaz, who issued an impassioned plea for her daughter’s return last week but says she has not spoken with her since March 8.
“If there were abuse complaints, this is a ridiculous way to respond,” said Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Sarah Gardner, who called Harris “a desperate man” at his arraignment.
“Anyone who thinks Mr. Harris embarked on this two-monthlong trek simply to protect his student is quite naive,” said Ed Stancik, special commissioner of investigation, adding that Harris had no business “taking Christina out of school and traipsing across the country with her, staying in cheap motels.”
But Harris, who faces up to 25 years in jail if convicted, stuck to his story as he faced a crush of reporters outside Stancik’s office, where he surrendered Tuesday. Harris returned to New York from Nevada Monday after learning he was a fugitive by watching the tabloid television show “Hard Copy.”
“A student came to me with horrific tales of brutal family abuse that lasted over years and years,” said Harris, who over the weekend contacted defense attorney William Kunstler, a name he recognized from the World Trade Center bombing case.
“She deserves respect, love and everything that’s coming to her,” Harris added. “She is a beautiful person.”
Kunstler’s partner, Ron Kuby, also insisted that Harris wanted only to protect the girl. “He was somebody who tried to rescue her,” Kuby told reporters after Harris was ordered held without bail on second-degree kidnapping charges in Manhattan Supreme Court. “Perhaps he didn’t show the best judgment, but he should not be the subject of a major criminal action; he was trying to get her out of this horrific family situation.”
Kuby said the teacher saw himself as a “rescuer” and requested he be held on reasonable bail.
“She had already run away from home,” Kuby told the judge. “She went to Harris and said, ‘You’ve got to help me.’ There’s no abduction here.”
Stephen Somerstein, the attorney representing Christina, said he had spoken briefly with his client Tuesday night.
Diaz broke down in tears Tuesday as she defended her relationship with her daughter during a news conference.
“I’m sorry. I’m upset. I can’t see my daughter actually saying she’s been abused,” she said, her voice cracking.
“We feel Mr. Harris is making these statements perhaps to get a better deal with the government,” said Diaz’s lawyer, Peter Antioco, adding that Kuby and Kunstler have refused to allow mother and daughter to speak to each other.
After Harris was arraigned, Kunstler said Christina “doesn’t want to go back to her mother,” and the girl apparently contacted her own attorney Tuesday.