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Detectives seek clues on suspect in Bradenton child assaults

MANATEE — Detectives from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Bradenton Police Department met at the sheriff’s office’s headquarters Monday to compare notes on three recent crimes involving assaults on young girls.

The solving of these crimes has now become a top priority, said Deputy Chief Jeffrey Lewis of the Bradenton Police Department.

“All of our resources are being poured into it,” Lewis said Monday, just speaking of the Bradenton Police Department. “We have six detectives, two supervisors, our entire street crimes unit, all our patrol officers, in fact, everyone in our agency from our chief on down is concentrating on this,” Lewis said.

The meeting centered on two near sexual assaults — last Thursday and Nov. 29 — being investigated by the sheriff’s office, and the rape of a 15-year-old girl Jan. 31 being investigated by the Bradenton Police Department.

Detectives don’t know if the same person is behind all three crimes, but it is possible, Lewis said.

Most of what was discussed at the meeting was not revealed, but one topic that came out of it was an alert to parents to make sure that all children walking home are practicing “the buddy system,” Lewis said.

“Parents should definitely take precautions to ensure the safety of their children,” Lewis said. “We think it is important that parents make sure their children are walking home with a buddy.”

The Bradenton Police Department is looking for a man in his 20s, about 6-foot tall with a thin build. The sheriff's office was originally looking for someone in their 30s and 40s in the incident Thursday, but on Monday officials said it is possible the suspect is as young as 18.

“We’re digging, but we haven’t come up with him yet,” sheriff’s office spokesman Dave Bristow said Monday. “Someone out there knows this guy, and it’s just a matter of time before a tip puts us over the top. Until that happens, people who live from, let’s say, U.S. Highway 41 west to 75th Street West need to be alert and observant at all times.”

Law enforcement has come up with no clever nickname for this suspect, whose distinct characteristics are that he grabs young girls from behind and he’s on foot wherever he goes.

“We’d like to call him the 'Arrested Man,'” Bristow said, with no hint of levity.

“All the crimes have been in daylight,” Bristow said. “This doesn’t mean that it couldn’t change.”

In the most recent assault Thursday, the suspect grabbed a 12-year-old girl from behind in the parking lot of Christ United Methodist Church in the 5500 block of 26th Street West and carried her a short distance to a wooded area.

His attempts at sexually assaulting her were blunted when he became scared that people might be around, according to reports.

Portions of the suspect’s pursuit of the girl was caught on surveillance video. The suspect was wearing a dark hoodie with black basketball shorts. A security camera at nearby Bayshore High School also captured the suspect, according to authorities.

Two other girls had similar encounters with a suspect that authorities say fits the description and actions of the most recent assault.

The first occurred Nov. 29 in the 5100 block of 51st Street West when a man came up behind a 15-year-old girl walking home from school and put one hand on the front of her neck and the other over her mouth, a report stated.

The suspect then pushed her to the ground.

By kicking furiously, the girl was able to fight off the attacker, who ran off, the report added.

The second girl was not as fortunate to be able to fight off an attack that came on 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, after which the suspect fled.

There are at least five schools in the perimeter of the three attacks, including Bayshore High School, Bayshore Elementary School, The Pendleton School, Lee Middle School and Central High School.

While Bayshore High officials were busy defusing an unrelated Valentine’s Day threat Monday that a student had made last week by writing on a bathroom wall, deputies took the opportunity to patrol the streets around the campus, looking for the assault suspect.

“We had additional deputies on campus Monday and some of them were involved in the child predator piece,” said Margi Nanney, a spokeswoman for the school district.

In light of the assaults, Manatee County School District Superintendent Tim McGonegal on Monday announced that safety protocols on all campuses will be reviewed, and school officials will make sure that all visitors are run through background checks, Nanney said.

Anyone having information about these cases is asked to can call Crime Stoppers at (866) 634-8477 (TIPS).

The Gold Star Club of Manatee County is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect.

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