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Man Tries to Abduct South Bay Student

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As word spread that another child had been approached Wednesday morning by a man who resembled a serial molester terrorizing the South Bay, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department put 20 more detectives on the investigation of the assaults on girls that began in January.

The 20 detectives join a 35-member task force formed last week to coordinate the efforts of six police agencies working on solving similar cases.

But that did not dampen parents’ rage Wednesday that the man, who drives a gray van with burgundy stripes, has not been caught.

“I’m mad. My adrenaline is flowing,” said Pamela Moore, who has an 11-year-old son and a 7-year-old grandson at Cimarron Avenue Elementary School in Hawthorne. An 8-year-old girl was abducted and raped on June 4 when she was walking to the school. “This man is floating round here and nobody is catching him.”

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On Wednesday morning, another Cimarron Avenue Elementary School student said she was approached by a man in a gray van as she walked to class at 7:40 a.m.

Adding to parents’ worry, summer vacation starts next week, when children usually are outdoors more. Several concerned parents said that that they will put their children in summer school and make sure they are accompanied whenever they go out.

“My kids will be spending a lot of time indoors this summer,” said one mother. “They may feel like they’re in prison, but at least they’ll be alive.”

The man, described as an African American with a mustache and goatee, is believed to be responsible for the rapes of at least six elementary school girls in Inglewood, Hawthorne, Ladera Heights and Lennox since Jan. 22. He also is believed to be connected with several attempted abductions, all involving 7- and 8-year-old girls.

The 10-year-old girl in Wednesday’s incident told reporters that she was walking down an alley near Western Avenue and Imperial Highway at 7:40 a.m. toward school when a man in a gray van said, “Little girl. Come here.” When she said no, the man warned her “You’d better.” At that point, she said, she ran down the alley toward school. He followed her in his van for one block then gave up, she said.

She ran five more blocks, arriving at school in tears. After she told a Los Angeles Unified School District police officer, investigators from the county Sheriff’s Department and Hawthorne Police Department arrived.

Investigators said they found the girl’s story credible and consistent with what they know about the molester.

Two suspects have been arrested and released in connection with the case because there wasn’t enough evidence to hold them.

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Meanwhile, parents have been patrolling the streets every morning, looking for a gray van.

Judde Humphrey said he goes out at 6:20 a.m. every morning combing the streets for the man. Now he is thinking of getting a group of men to search this summer. “If he thinks the police are looking for him, he’s got it wrong. He’s going to have a whole posse out there,” said the father of two sons at Cimarron Avenue Elementary School.

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After school let out Wednesday at Cimarron, adults showed even closer supervision than in recent weeks. Third-grade teacher William Fitzgerald stood outside, making sure that two of his students who hadn’t been picked up got home safely.

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Two weeks ago, parents at the school formed their own task force called CANDLE, or Community Alert Neighborhood Denouncing Lawbreaking Evildoers. An adult stakes out each corner near the school before and after classes and makes sure no one is stalking a student. CANDLE has started an education campaign to teach area children how to confront molesters.

A toll-free hotline has been set up for tips. The number is (800) 299-9897, ext. 5454.


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