MANATEE -- The 12-year-old girl who avoided a sexual assault Thursday afternoon might not be the suspect’s only victim.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigators believe the same male suspect who attempted to assault her could be involved in two similar incidents that occurred in the past three months.
“We need the public’s help and more eyes out there watching in the area,” Sheriff Brad Steube said.
On Thursday, the 12-year-old was walking in the rear parking lot of Christ United Methodist Church in the 5500 block of 26th Street West at about 4:20 p.m. when she was grabbed from behind by an unknown man.
The suspect picked her up and carried her a short distance to a low hanging oak tree, according to a media release. The suspect then attempted to sexually assault her, but she told him there were people in the area and that he better leave.
The sheriff’s office Friday released surveillance video of portions of the incident. The girl is seen walking, followed shortly thereafter by the suspect. At the end of the video, the suspect is seen running toward the parking lot. (Update: More surveillance video was released Saturday by the sheriff's office. It pictures a suspect walking on the Bayshore High campus prior to Thursday's incident.)
Two other girls had similar stories.
The first occurred Nov. 29 when a 15-year-old was walking home from school in the 5100 block of 51st Street West. An unknown man came up behind her, put one hand on the front of her neck and the other over her mouth, and then pushed her to the ground, a report said.
The girl managed to kick the attacker in the head while she was on the ground, and ran home to tell her mom about the incident, the report stated. The attacker ran off after the incident.
Another case involving a 15-year-old girl occurred Jan. 31 when she was grabbed from behind by a man in the 4900 block of 47th Avenue West, according to the Bradenton Police Department.
She was sexually assaulted and then the man fled.
There are several schools within the perimeter of the three attacks, including Bayshore High School, Bayshore Elementary School, The Pendleton School, Lee Middle School and Central High School.
Steube advises children and parents to take precautions: stay in areas that are populated and walk in groups. He also advises parents to drive their children to and from school, if possible, or to have an adult drive them.
The suspect Thursday was described as being between 30 and 40 years old and standing 6 feet tall with a thin build. He was wearing a dark hoodie with black basketball shorts. The description of the suspect in the Jan. 31 case was similar.
Anyone with information about these incidents can call the sheriff’s office at (941) 747-3011 or Crime Stoppers at (866) 634-TIPS.