Hamza Ali
Hamza Ali

The mother of a 7-month-old baby who remains missing and is presumed dead testified she felt she needed to take the child to her mother's home in Maine "for his own safety."

Zainab Gaal, 20, testified Monday in Delaware County at the preliminary hearing of her former boyfriend, Ummad Rushdi.

Rushdi, 30, of 979 Castle Pond Drive in Windsor Township, is accused of murdering baby Hamza Ali.

At the close of the 70-minute hearing, a district judge determined enough evidence exists for Rushdi to stand trial on charges of first-, second- and third-degree murder, kidnapping, concealment of the whereabouts of a child, abuse of a corpse and related offenses.

Rushdi remains in Delaware County prison without bail.

Ummad Rushdi
Ummad Rushdi

During the hearing, he stared without apparent emotion at Gaal as she testified against him.

At other points during the hearing, his eyes fluttered and drooped, and he appeared to fall asleep.

As he was led from the courtroom after the hearing, Rushdi called out "the truth will become self-evident," but it was unclear to whom he was speaking.

Michael Malloy, Rushdi's defense attorney, said his client wasn't drifting off.

"He might have been meditating," Malloy said. "He certainly wasn't falling asleep."

During the hearing, Gaal spoke quietly, telling the court Rushdi "always had issue(s) with Hamza."

"He (Rushdi) would say he's an idiot baby -- a negative-energy baby," Gaal said. "That he doesn't belong here."

Gaal said she, Hamza and Rushdi went to the Delaware County home of Rushdi's parents in Upper Darby Township to visit in mid-July.

While there, Rushdi allegedly took Hamza from the home on the night of Aug. 3, which Gaal said was the last time she saw her baby.

Gaal said Rushdi told her he was going to take Hamza away.

"I told him, 'You can't take him away without my permission,'" Gaal testified. "He was quiet for a few seconds, then he said he could get away with murder."

Also testifying was Upper Darby Police Capt. George Rhoades Jr., who is in charge of the detective bureau there.

Rhoades testified he received a call from the prison saying Rushdi wanted to meet with him "to confess."

The captain said he started to read Rushdi his Miranda warnings, but "the defendant interrupted" and said he shook Hamza when the baby wouldn't stop crying.

According to Rhoades, Rushdi said the baby stopped breathing and that, after trying CPR, he wrapped Hamza's body in a sheet and drove it back to York County, where he hid it.

Rushdi also allegedly said he returned the next day, retrieved the body and moved it elsewhere, Rhoades testified.

"Ummad said when he gets out of jail, he will dig up the body and bury it in his back yard," the captain said.

Malloy argued to the judge that the only evidence prosecutors provided at the hearing were hearsay statements and statements by the defendant.

He argued that, assuming Hamza was killed at the Upper Darby home, then no kidnapping occurred. If there was no kidnapping, then there could be no second-degree murder, which is murder committed during the course of another felony. "They want to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks," Malloy argued.

But Delaware County deputy district attorney Stephanie Wills said the evidence that a kidnapping happened was that Hamza was "ripped" from his mother's arms. "We know what his intent (was) that night," she said -- indeed, from "the beginning."

Malloy also pointed out to presiding District Judge Harry Karapalides that the prosecution is trying to prove murder, but authorities haven't even found Hamza's body.

After the hearing, Wills told The York Dispatch, "We can still prove murder without a body."

Attending Monday's hearing was Hamza's father, Abdullahi Omar, 21, of Worcester, Mass. Omar told reporters he hopes Rushdi gets what he deserves.

"I wish there was something I could do," Omar said.

Rushdi's parents and sister also tried to attend the hearing, but were sequestered from it because they possibly could be called as prosecution witnesses at trial.

Numerous searches by land, air and water in York, Lancaster and Delaware counties failed to find Hamza's body. Wills described the searches as "exhaustive."

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Mike Chitwood also sat through the hearing. Afterward, he reiterated his hunch that Hamza wasn't merely shaken.

"(Rushdi) despised that child ... and he killed that child," Chitwood said. "I believe it was a horrible death."

-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.