hree years ago, amid an acrimonious divorce that included charges of parental kidnapping, Naheed Morrill lost custody of her three children. This Sunday will be her first Mother’s Day with her daughters since they were wrenched apart in London while on vacation and the McLean family’s life spiraled out of control.
“The sole purpose of my life has been to regain custody. I lived it day to day, minute to minute,” said Naheed Morrill of the last few years.
Naheed Morrill was born and raised in Pakistan. She met Grant Morrill, her ex-husband, at a party in Pakistan, while he was posted there by the U.S. Agency for International Development. They later married and came to the United States, finally settling in McLean and having three daughters
Naheed Morrill said their cultural differences soon became overwhelming, and their marriage started to disintegrate. In 2000, after returning with the girls from a trip to see her family in Pakistan, she found the marriage was over. “I came home, and the house was gone. Everything was gone. I never even got my clothes back,” said Naheed Morrill.
But it was the next year, the next family vacation to Pakistan, that proved fateful for the family. According to Naheed Morrill’s version of events, she and her daughters left for vacation, planning to spend time in England with friends before going on to Pakistan. Her husband, she said, was aware of her travel plans. “He was there at my house. He saw the suitcases and asked about our trip. He knew where we were going,” said Naheed Morrill.
AT THAT TIME, Naheed Morrill said, she had full custody of her children.
Because she was going away for an extended period of time and because she didn’t have much money, Naheed Morrill took a series of actions that would come back to haunt her. She vacated her apartment because she was going to get a new home when she returned. She loaned her car to a friend, and she disconnected her phone. She also permitted her attorney to withdraw her divorce proceedings, because she couldn’t afford to pay her anymore.
“My attorney withdrew the day Grant filed the petition,” said Naheed Morrill.
Her husband reportedly charged that Naheed had taken the girls out of the country, he did not know where they were, and they were flying on one-way tickets to Pakistan. Grant Morrill declined to comment on the specifics of the case. All of this happened just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the country was gripped by fear.
“Everything that happened to me was because of 9/11. If I was Jane from Oklahoma, this never would have happened. This couldn’t have happened to me,” said Naheed Morrill.
Flying on one-way tickets, said Naheed Morrill, is something they had done before. Family members in Pakistan would then buy them return tickets. “I really did not have a lot of money at the time. It wasn’t [that] I wasn’t coming back. We were coming back. The girls were planning on going with their father to California when we got back,” said Naheed Morrill.
The Circuit Court Judge sided with Grant Morrill and gave him custody. Naheed and her daughters were obliviously enjoying the sights and sounds of London while their fates were being determined back home.
NAHEED MORRILL WAS picked up by Interpol and charged with kidnapping her own daughters. While she was with detectives, her husband came and, according to one of her daughters, literally dragged them out of the house they were staying in, kicking and screaming.
Zenobia, who goes by “Zozo,” is 13 now and a student at Longfellow Middle School. “It was the most horrible time of our life. Our dad was saying that Mom had kidnapped us. We didn’t know what was going on,” she said.
Zozo and her older sister, Anarkali, 14, said they tried to escape from their father and to tell authorities they were not being abducted. “At the Metro we tried to get out, but Dad threw the suitcases in front of the door and wouldn’t let us out,” said Zozo.
“I told the lady at the counter at the airport that our father was taking us by force out of London,” said Anarkali, “but after a few people talked to us, they said we had to go with him.”
Naheed Morrill was told that she could go on to Pakistan, but if she chose to return to the United States, she would be arrested. “People would tell me to go ahead, go to Pakistan, get married again and move on. But I knew I could not do that. Even if I had to fight for 10 years, I would not have stopped. I knew I would be arrested, but I had to go. What would my girls have thought of me if I hadn’t come back? They would have thought I had abandoned them, and I could not live with that. I would not live with that,” said Naheed Morrill.
SO SHE RETURNED to the United States, escorted by U.S. marshals and in shackles for the entire flight. On landing, she was arrested and put into an adult detention enter. After days in jail, a family friend finally located her and got her out. “No one knew I was there, for a long time. The girls did not know where I was during that time,” said Naheed Morrill.
Then began her fight to clear her name of the charges and to regain custody of her daughters. The case was eventually dismissed, and Naheed Morrill now shares 60/40 custody with her ex-husband, who also lives in McLean. She said, “I pay him child support. I make very little money. My family in Pakistan helps me out, but still I pay him.”
For the sake of the children, who are now enrolled in counseling, Naheed Morrill decided to stop the accusations and the anger with her ex-husband.
“After the events of 2001, when the case was finally dismissed, I decided enough was enough and I had to forgive him and go on. No one can explain it to me anyway, how this happened to me. Not even the courts,” said Naheed Morrill. “I did offer the olive branch and made peace with him.”
Grant Morrill said, “None of this has been neutral.”
The children, too, say they have come to terms with what happened and are rebuilding relationships with both their parents.
Their father noted, ”This has not been a nice experience. It has not been good for the children.”
“They love their father. They want to spend time with him, so what else could I do?” asked Naheed Morrill.
“BEFORE ALL THIS HAPPENED, Mom would say to enjoy your time because you’re going to grow up soon. But we just went along. Time is more important with her now. Each moment is a special treat with her, and I don’t take it for granted,” said Anarkali Morrill.
“We used to take our mom for granted, but now that things have been really hard for three years, we don’t do that,” said Zozo Morrill. “When I become a Mom, I want to always be there. That’s what this has taught me.”
Although Naheed Morrill will be celebrating a long-awaited Mother’s Day with her daughters, she said the event is bittersweet. “I left three little girls, and now they have grown up so much,” she said of the time that has passed. Zozo Morrill said, “It hurts to know that for the last three years she’s missed so much of my life. She hasn’t changed at all, but I’m probably different.”
“She just wants to pick up where we left off, but we can’t do that because we are different people now,” said Zozo Morrill.
The girls contend they have learned from the experience and found value in it. “I thought things were never going to get better, and doubt had taken over. It made me stronger,” said Zozo. “We’re a lot more independent now,” she added.
The family thinks that a quiet picnic in a park will be the perfect way to celebrate. “When we are with her, it doesn’t matter what we do. Either way we are going to have fun,” said Zozo Morrill.
Clarrissa Morrill, the youngest daughter, who is 10, was not at the interview and commented later: “My mom is one of the most special person[s] to me. Some things that she does that are special are she takes care of me, she helps when I need help, she believes in me, and she makes me feel better when I’m scared. I’m very lucky to have her as a mom.”
“People shouldn’t take their mothers for granted. You don’t realize the importance until you lose it,” said Anarkali Morrill. “This shows that truly, for mothers, their kids are the most important thing.”