The story was supposed to have a happy ending: a missing woman’s return home to her loved ones after she was kidnapped in a terrifying home invasion.
Instead, Nadirah Ruffin’s family will have to find a way to tell her 4-year-old son that mommy won’t be coming home.
Officials confirmed Wednesday night that the body found floating in Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River on Tuesday morning was Ruffin, the 19-year-old woman abducted at gunpoint from an Atlantic City apartment at about 11:40 p.m. March 26.
A Philadelphia medical examiner determined she died of a gunshot wound, and the death was ruled a homicide, Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel said in a release. She was identified through dental records.
Housel did not say where Ruffin was shot, but police sources have said the wound was to her head.
Ruffin was with her cousin and three other women at the apartment on the 800 block of North Maryland Avenue when a knock came on the door. The women would later tell Ruffin’s mother, Fonda, that they heard a man say, “She’s waiting for me.”
When the door opened, four people wearing masks and brandishing guns rushed in. Duct tape was used to tie them up, police said. Cash was taken, and then Ruffin — crying and talking of her son — was forced out at gunpoint.
“We’re taking her to the Ville,” one of the men said, believed to be referring to Pleasantville.
Ruffin’s family and friends rallied the community, leading prayer vigils and canvassing the neighborhood for information. Everything they were told, they passed on to detectives.
“They are letting us call them any time of the day or night,” Ruffin’s aunt Robin Salaam said last month. “These guys have opened their lives to us.”
Then, on Tuesday, the detectives got a call that Philadelphia police had retrieved a body from the river. The woman had duct tape on her head and part of her upper torso. A handcuff dangled from her left ankle, the other bracelet open.
Investigators with the Atlantic City Police Department and the county Prosecutor's Office immediately made the drive to Philadelphia, and then waited overnight, going out on a boat with investigators Wednesday to see where the woman had been found.
Later that night, tests confirmed what they had already known to be true: Ruffin was dead.
It has not yet determined where or when the girl was killed, although sources involved in the investigation said evidence shows she was killed somewhere else and transported.
Strong currents caused by heavy rains that hit Philadelphia over the weekend also could have played a factor in how far Ruffin's body was from where she may have been dumped.
The teen mother had been working hard to make a good life for her and her son, Jhalil, who celebrated a special fourth birthday at the Camden Aquarium with his mother and a small group a month before she disappeared.
Everything was for “Dink,” Fonda Ruffin, said shortly after her daughter’s disappearance, referring to her grandson by the nickname Nadirah had given him.
During the weeks of searching, family tried to keep Jhalil occupied so he wouldn’t ask about his mother.
“I just pooh-pooh it, saying, ‘She’ll be back,’” said Salaam, who shared her Egg Harbor Township home with the teen mom and her son.
But now, the family knows that won’t happen.
Family, friends and even strangers filled two Facebook pages dedicated to Ruffin with condolences and words of despair.
“RIP, Nadirah. We will continue to pray for your son and your family,” Nycole Lyles-Belton wrote on the Nadirah Ruffin Support Group page, which was nearly 1,000 members Wednesday night. “Lord you still get the glory!”
“You are reunited with your pop-pop now,” wrote Keisha James. “Love you both.”
On the Help Bring Nadirah Ruffin Back Home page, there were still words of hope: “Hopin’ and praying,” Jazmin Renay wrote.
The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Major Crimes Unit will now head the investigation to find out who killed Ruffin, as is common practice for homicide cases in the county. The FBI and Atlantic City Police Department will continue to assist, along with the Philadelphia Police Department.
Housel had explained earlier in the day that, if the killing was determined to be in New Jersey or could not be determined, the crime — when a suspect or suspects are arrested — would be prosecuted in the county. But if she was killed in Pennsylvania, that could cause some issues with who would prosecute the case, when the time comes.
The FBI has offered as much as $20,000 for information leading an arrest and conviction in the case.
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