Aug. 13, 2009— -- The Muslim parents of an Ohio teenager who fled to Florida fearing an "honor killing" for converting to Christianity today blamed their daughter's fears on the husband and wife pastors who took their daughter in and didn't report her presence for more than two weeks.
"Neither Mr. or Mrs. Bary have ever threatened the life of their daughter, and patiently await their daughter's safe return," Craig McCarthy, a lawyer for Mohamed Bary and his wife, said in a statement issued today to "Good Morning America."
Fathima Rifqa Bary, who goes by Rifqa, left home in New Albany, Ohio, last month and hopped on a bus to Orlando to meet with husband and wife pastors Blake and Beverly Lorenz, who she met through a Facebook prayer group for the couple's non-denominational Global Revolution Church.
The couple have become the 17-year-old girl's biggest allies, saying she has told them that her father threatened to kill her when he found out she had secretly become a Christian.
"To anyone's knowledge, Rifqa never told anyone that she was frightened while living with her parents in Ohio. Those words only came out of her mouth after being missing for two and a half weeks and surfacing in the tight embrace of Mr. Lorenz, who had not promptly reported that the runaway had been in his home," the parents' statement read.
Lorenz could not immediately be reached today for comment, but told ABCNews.com Tuesday that he and his wife weren't even aware Rifqa's parents had reported her missing until she'd been at their house for more than two weeks.
Bary is now in Florida fighting to bring his daughter home. A judge Monday ordered Rifqa to remain in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families while authorities in that state and Ohio determine whether or not she'd be safe at home.
"If this case is perceived as a clash of religions, it is because Mr. Lorenz recklessly and without authorization put someone else's child in front of television cameras to publicly renounce her previous faith," McCarthy said in the statement. "The parents who love Rifqa are in the best position now to protect her from the mess that Mr. Lorenz has made."
But Lorenz told ABCNews.com Tuesday that they were the people Rifqa sought out for protection.
Murder Threat or Religious Clash?
Lorenz said Rifqa, a native of Sri Lanka, had secretly converted from Islam to Christianity four years ago, but her religion was only discovered recently. Rifqa had snuck out to an area church where, according to Lorenz, she had an "incredible encounter with Jesus."
Lorenz said Rifqa was so moved she posted about it on her Facebook page, writings that would later be seen by her friends from her family's mosque and reported to her father.
"That's when he threatened to kill her for the first time," Lorenz said, adding that he didn't know on how many other occasions that threat had been made.
The battle allegedly came to a head about a month ago, Lorenz said, when Rifqa's mother found a Christian book in the house while Bary was out of town. Rifqa's mother, he said, threatened to tell her father.
"She did say she was dead to her" if she didn't renounce her Christian faith, Lorenz said.
Rifqa confirmed to ABC's Orlando affiliate WFTV that she believed her father would kill her.
"They have to kill me because I'm a Christian. It's an honor [killing]. If they love me more than God, then they have to kill me," she explained.
Terrifed and fearing she would be the victim of an honor killing, she got on a bus and borrowed a cell phone to contact Beverly Lorenz who she had been communicating with after finding the Lorenzes' church on Facebook.
The pastors' first move was to call an attorney, several of them, actually.
"No one really knew what to do," Lorenz said, pointing out that Rifqa was not only a minor, but that she had crossed state lines and she wasn't even a U.S. citizen.
Keeping Rifqa Safe
Blake Lorenz said Rifqa arrived late at night after a two-day trip. The next morning, the couple called police for advice, but did not tell them Rifqa's name. They did report Rifqa's presence two weeks later, he said, when the couple realized the teen's parents had reported her missing.
Lorenz said he fears Rifqa is "definitely not safe." He pointed to other suspected honor killings in Muslim families, including two Texas sisters who were murdered by their Muslim father Jan. 1, 2008, in what some believed to be religion-fueled rage over the girls' Western ways.
Lorenz said he called the abuse hotline last Friday. Elizabeth Arenas, a public information officer for Florida's DCF, said Rifqa is now in foster care while Florida officials work with Ohio child services to investigate the teen's claims.
"We just want to be sure she's going to be safe," Arenas said.
Rifqa is being represented by a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal group that takes on conservative Christian causes.
The next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 21.
"When she saw her dad yesterday, she was scared to death," Blake Lorenz told ABCNews.com on Tuesday. "She literally believes she's going to be killed."
As for Bary, he said, "I don't want to make him out to be a monster, because I'm sure he's not."
Her parents were also given supervised visitation rights, but only at the discretion of their daughter. Arenas said she was unsure if Rifqa had met with her parents since the hearing.
"I don't want to see my father," she told WFTV.