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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Garrett Smith gives his reaction to the safe return of 10-year-old Aliyah Kay Crowder, his neighbor, outside of his home in West Valley City on Saturday, March 10, 2012.
Once we were able to alleviate some of those concerns and hear Aliyah's mother's version of this situation and calm her down a bit, the situation really de-escalated. —Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder

WEST VALLEY CITY — A 10-year-old girl who police say was abducted from her elementary school Friday by her biological mother is now back with her father.

Michael Varner, Aliyah Kay Crowder’s biological father, was reunited with her around 2 a.m. Saturday.

"We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to the West Valley Police Department and all other law enforcement agencies that assisted in her recovery,” Varner said in a prepared statement. “Additionally, we would like to thank our community for their support and for all the prayers that were offered for her safe return. These prayers have been answered and Aliyah is doing very well."

Police said Aliyah was taken by her biological mother, Venus Athena Barker, from Silver Hills Elementary School at 5770 W. 5100 South just after noon on Friday while waiting in the cafeteria line during the school's lunch break. Barker does not have legal custody of the fourth-grader.

West Valley police say they made contact with Barker on the phone Friday night, which led to her surrendering somewhere in northern Utah. Investigators wouldn't say where or how she surrendered.

"A lot of the specific details, we're not discussing at this point, but we were able to establish phone contact with the mother, Venus Barker, and once that contact was established, we were able to work together,” West Valley Police Sgt. Mike Powell said.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said he spent three hours on the phone with Barker and listened to her explanations regarding the custody of her biological daughter.

He said Barker tried several times to reach him by phone Friday morning, but was unsuccessful. The two finally connected around 7 p.m. Friday.

"Venus, I think, believed that she did have some standing in this and that is the dispute between (her) and the other biological parent," Winder said.

Winder said he had not had any previous communication with Barker prior to Friday, but he said he is grateful she reached out to him. "She believes that the sheriff is an individual she can reach out to and communicate with, and I'm thrilled she did," he said.

He was also able to talk to Aliyah and he said she was well cared for during the time she was with Barker.

"Once we were able to alleviate some of those concerns and hear Aliyah's mother's version of this situation and calm her down a bit, the situation really de-escalated," Winder said.

The sheriff would not comment on the custody issue and said it will have to be resolved in court. Barker was detained, but has not been charged with any crime.

The girl was taken about noon Friday, but the Amber Alert wasn't issued until about 4 p.m. Powell said the delay was due to requirements and details that needed to be verified before the alert could be activated. 

An Amber Alert is activated when four criteria are met: Is this believed to be a child abduction? Is the child 17 years of age or younger? Is the victim believed to be facing imminent danger, serious bodily injury or death? And is there information that could assist the public in the safe recovery of the victim or the apprehension of a suspect?

"When we finally reached the point where we were confident we met those requirements, that's when the Amber Alert was issued,” Powell said.

West Valley police were especially concerned for Aliyah's welfare because this was not the first time the girl had been taken without permission. In October 2011, the girl was reunited after her mother allegedly abducted and kept her away from other family members for eight months. Police located her stepfather, Sanford Barker, in North Dakota after trying to stop him in his vehicle for a broken taillight.

After impounding the trailer, police found a photo matching the description of Aliyah, according to reports. They found that she had been with the couple in Kildeer, N.D., and believe that she had been there since she was reported missing.

The investigation in the latest abduction is ongoing, and police would not confirm if Barker was in custody.

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