It started with a fight on Facebook that got out of hand.
Now, a Delaware County mother - photographed smiling alongside her 2-year-old daughter, bound to a chair with duct tape - has been arrested and charged with endangering a child, false imprisonment, unlawful restraint, and related crimes, police said.
Caira Ferguson, 21, of Chester Township, could face more charges for making a false report to police, investigators said. She was ordered held without bail at her arraignment Wednesday night.
Last week, Ferguson contacted police to report an alleged case of identity theft and showed them the photo. One look at the picture, however, and police knew they had two investigations on their hands: one involving alleged identity theft and the other possible child endangerment, said Township Chief Kenneth Coalson.
"To see the child in that condition is disgusting. It's deplorable," said Coalson.
The toddler, clad only in a diaper, had been taped to a purple chair with duct tape across her stomach, wrists, ankles, and mouth.
The photo was taken in July, when Ferguson was living in Nether Providence Township. When police served a search warrant at her Chester Township home, there were still remnants of the tape on the arms and legs of the chair, according to police.
Police have the camera and photo, Coalson said.
Coalson said the county's Children and Youth Services is now involved. The child "seemed in good condition" and will most likely be placed with relatives, he said.
Ferguson admitted taping the baby to the chair but never gave police a reason why, said Sgt. Michael Irey of Nether Providence police. She even tried to blame two children, ages 5 and 7, who were visiting at the time, Irey said.
Wednesday, police took Ferguson into custody on nine outstanding warrants for traffic and nontraffic violations, and were able to question her further, Coalson said.
Police said Ferguson initially wove a story about how a girlfriend used her identity to open accounts with Peco, Comcast, and the Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union, but now has told a different story.
"None of the ID thefts occurred," said Officer Merritt Harman of Chester Township.
Through interviews with witnesses, police learned that Ferguson and her girlfriend, also 21 and living in Chester Township, got into an argument on Facebook. One brought up "personal information they shouldn't have," Harman said.
"They were best friends. Not anymore," he added.
Ferguson then wrote more negative posts on Facebook about her former friend.
A third friend, who knows both Ferguson and the girlfriend, jumped into the fray and posted the photo of the bound baby on Facebook.
Then someone put the photo on a much larger social network website - MediaTakeOut.com - where it received well over 300,000 hits, Harman said. "How it got to MediaTakeOut, I don't know," Harman said.
The website added the tag: "Imagine what it's gonna feel like taking OFF the tape."
Fred Mwangaguhunga, the site's editor, said the photo had been removed. He had no further comment.
Harman said Ferguson might have been concerned about the attention the photo was attracting and went to police to "redirect attention" to her friend.
Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or email@example.com.