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Would-Be Kidnapper Sought in Long Beach

Manhunt: Parents are urged to be alert for man who has approached children seven times.

October 03, 2002|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Police urged parents to be alert and sought the public's help Wednesday in finding a man who has tried seven times to kidnap children in central Long Beach and Signal Hill.

In the latest incident, the man pried open a locked chain-link gate at a day-care center in the 2200 block of Olive Avenue and began pulling a 4-year-old girl away, authorities said. But a staffer retrieved the child and scared the man away.

"Certainly we are concerned, and that's why we are reaching out to the public," said Officer Greg Schirmer, a spokesman for the Long Beach Police Department.

About half a dozen Long Beach Unified School District schools in the area began sending letters home two weeks ago informing parents of the escalating incidents and asking them to be alert.

On Wednesday, some were taking extra precautions.

"Now I'm here early to pick [my children] up--doing the buddy system," said Sonia Peterson. Her 10-year-old son attends Mary Butler School, near where one of the incidents happened, and her 12-year-old daughter attends Jefferson Leadership Academies. "I'm sitting here at 3:30. Before, they would walk home by themselves."

Police and school officials urged parents and children to take the often-heard advice: Know where your children are, make sure they walk to school with buddies and know to run from a suspicious stranger. For other safety information, officials suggested parents visit www.missingkids.com.

In one of the incidents, on Saturday the man succeeded in pulling a boy off his bike and into his truck in the 2100 block of Spaulding Court, Schirmer said. But the man released the youngster later without harming him.

Police believe the same man is involved in all the cases, based on witnesses' description of him and his vehicle. All the incidents have occurred within a few blocks and near several schools.

The man is described as a Latino male between 30 and 35 years old, authorities said. He is between 5 feet 4 and 5 feet 9, and weighs 140 to 165 pounds. Some witnesses said he had a mustache and some did not.

In the day-care center incident, the man was seen wearing khaki-colored pants and a white T-shirt, according to authorities. In another incident, he was wearing a short-sleeve blue uniform shirt with a white rectangular name tag with navy blue writing on it, navy blue pants and black dress shoes.

His vehicle was described as a 1980s to 1990s white pickup truck--possibly a Toyota--with miscellaneous items in the back.

The attempted kidnappings began on Sept. 5, authorities said. The children have ranged from 4 to 16 years old.

* The first incident happened near 6th Street and Redondo Avenue, where the man asked a young girl whether she wanted a ride. The girl ran away.

* On Sept. 12, near 23rd Street and Orange Avenue, the man exposed himself to a 16-year-old girl and grabbed her by the arm, authorities said. The girl got away.

* On Sept. 19, near 20th Street and Chestnut Avenue, the man asked three children where they were going. The children ran away.

* Last Thursday, near 20th Street and Orange Avenue, the man pulled his truck next to a boy on a bike and told him to stop, but the boy pedaled away.

* Also the morning of last Thursday, near 19th Street and Orange, the man followed two children, who also ran away.

Officers from the Long Beach and Signal Hill police departments, along with school security, have been extra vigilant, officials said.

"There's certainly a heightened awareness," said Richard Van Der Laan, a spokesman for Long Beach Unified, adding that authorities have sent two letters home. On Tuesday, principals also sent home the composite sketch released by police.

"We hope that having that on 5,000 refrigerators ... will have 15,000 pairs of eyes on the lookout for him," Van Der Laan said.

Officials asked anyone with information to call (562) 570-6407.

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