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Grandmother: 1 fewer molester is on the street

MANATEE — A 12-year-old’s grandmother, speaking a day after the girl apparently was raped by a stranger who took her away in his vehicle, says she is glad there is one fewer reported child molester on the streets.

“This is one person who won’t be able to do this again,” the grandmother said Monday on behalf of the victim’s family.

Kenneth R. Ross, 46, faces numerous sex-related charges after the girl identified him as the man who picked her up Saturday in his red Jeep Cherokee at the intersection of Manatee Avenue West and 75th Street West. The girl had run away from home Saturday morning, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

The girl said Ross took her to his apartment in the Bayshore on the Lake apartment complex, off 20th Street West near Cortez Road. She told detectives Ross gave her whiskey before he put on pornographic movies and repeatedly raped her, according to the sheriff’s office.

Ross has admitted to attacking the girl, the report states.

Sheriff’s Lt. Todd Shear said it appears Ross and the girl did not know each other, and he randomly picked her up Saturday morning after she left her home on Second Avenue West.

After hours of searching, the girl’s family reported her missing, saying she had run away. Witness accounts that the girl had gotten into a red Jeep Cherokee on Manatee Avenue led to a statewide Amber Alert on Sunday afternoon, because authorities believed her to be in “grave danger,” the sheriff’s report said.

The search ended at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday when the girl walked into her house to grateful family members.

She told detectives of the rape during questioning, identified Ross’ vehicle and pulled his picture out of a photo lineup, according to the sheriff’s office.

She said she had slept overnight at Ross’ apartment, and on Sunday he took her to DeSoto Square mall, where he bought her clothes and shoes, before dropping her off Sunday afternoon near her house, according to sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow.

The girl said Ross told her not to tell anybody what had happened, Ross’s arrest report said.

Detectives waited outside Ross’ apartment Sunday evening and stopped him as he left his home with several DVDs in his hands. Ross told detectives the DVDs were “his porn and he was heading to throw it in the Dumpster,” the sheriff’s report states.

Sheriff’s detectives took Ross into custody; during questioning, he admitted to picking up the girl on Manatee Avenue, taking her to his apartment, showing her porn and raping her, the sheriff’s report said.

Detectives arrested Ross just before 9:30 p.m. Sunday on five counts of lewd and lascivious battery, lewd and lascivious molestation, giving alcohol to a person under 21, exposing a child to harmful motion pictures and interference with child custody.

Ross has no past record of sex crimes, but he has been convicted in the past of DUI and arrested on an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge in Sarasota, which was later dropped.

The girl’s grandmother said investigators returned the girl to her home about 4 a.m. Monday after completing interviews, and that on Monday afternoon she was “sleeping soundly.”

The Bradenton Herald is not naming the girl or the girl’s relatives since she was found to protect her identity.

“She is exhausted, she is safe and resting and happy to be home with her family,” the grandmother said as she stood on the lawn of the family’s home. “The whole family has been overjoyed praising God.

“There is probably nothing to prevent a determined child from leaving home aside from putting bars on the windows,” the grandmother said.

But if that does take place, she said alerting authorities quickly is crucial.

“We believe if not for the assistance of the Amber Alert and everyone who helped search, (she) would not be home safe,” the grandmother said.

The search party included a relative who is a deputy with the sheriff’s office.

When the girl returned home Sunday, her mother and grandmother said they were in shock but overwhelmed with relief.

“It was unreal, it was like a birth all over again,” the girl’s 32-year-old mother said.

Although the grandmother said the girl was in good spirits when she returned, she believes it was an act.

“She was putting on a smile because that is what was expected of her,” the grandmother said. “I’m sure her feelings have been much, much more dark since that time.”

The grandmother said the family hopes to expedite the girl’s healing process. She has upcoming appointments scheduled with her therapist and a psychiatrist. “She will be given all the help she can get to help her grow up and be a healthy and wonderful woman,” the grandmother said.

Emotions ran from shock to anger at Bayshore on the Lake for Venture Rentals, the Bradenton apartment complex where Ross lives and works. According to his arrest report, Ross is a maintenance man there.

Adam Wieand, who manages the complex, declined to discuss Ross’s arrest and employment status, but his outrage over the allegations was apparent.

“It is a disgusting situation,” Wieand said. “I am glad they caught him.”

Co-workers on Ross’s maintenance crew at the complex called him a hard worker and a personable sort, expressing shock over his arrest.

“I just can’t see this from him,” one co-worker said. “I worked with him a lot and would never think he could do something like this.”

Assistant State Attorney Jeff Quisenberry, who prosecutes sex cases in Manatee County, said if Ross is convicted on all charges and is sentenced consecutively, he could face up to 101 years in prison.

At Ross’s first appearance Monday morning, a judge ordered him held on bonds totaling $192,500. If he posts bond, the judge ordered supervised release and that Ross not have any contact with minors.

His arraignment is May 1.

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