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Miami Police Intensify Their Effort to Catch Serial Rapist

Sanitation workers and illegal immigrants are asked to help find a suspect. The victims have included schoolgirls and a 79-year-old.

June 12, 2003|John-Thor Dahlburg | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Police officers, firefighters, even city sanitation workers and illegal immigrants have been enlisted in the hunt for a serial rapist suspected of attacking up to half a dozen women, ranging from an elementary schoolgirl to a 79-year-old, Miami officials said Wednesday.

"We're calling it Task Force One, because our No. 1 priority is to catch this person," police spokesman Lt. Bill Schwartz said.

With Miami public schools letting out Wednesday for the summer, law enforcement officials urged parents not to leave their children alone at home, but rather to entrust them to friends, relatives or a summer camp. The rapist, police said, has demonstrated his ability to break undetected into homes, where he has confronted terrified victims.

"The scary thought is that he is a burglar too," Schwartz said in an interview.

"He could be waiting right now, as we speak, for someone to come home," he said.

According to police, DNA tests have established that the same man raped two girls, ages 11 and 12, in their homes, one in May and one this month. The girls were home alone shortly after getting out of school for the day, and the rapist may have been waiting for them there, officials said, or may have followed them from their school bus stops.

Genetic testing also has linked the unknown assailant to sexual assaults on two women, ages 21 and 55, last fall.

Authorities said tests were continuing to determine whether the same man was responsible for raping a 13-year-old girl in her home after school Monday, and a 79-year-old woman in May.

"The MO [modus operandi] is strikingly similar," Schwartz said.

Police described the suspect as a dark-skinned Latino in his late 30s or early 40s, about 5-foot-8 with an acne-scarred face; his accent and choice of words indicate he may be from Mexico or Nicaragua.

According to police, he spoke to his victims only in Spanish, warning them that if they told anyone about being raped, he would return and kill them.

He apparently made no attempt to conceal his appearance from his victims during the attacks.

Three similar sketches of the assailant, drawn from descriptions given by victims, are featured on a flier being handed out by firefighters and sanitation workers on their rounds. Retired police officers also have volunteered, joining the round-the-clock manhunt underway, Schwartz said.

Law enforcement officials said the attacker's method was particularly unsettling because it meant any girl or woman in Miami could be his next victim.

"We're talking about a brutal criminal who's not discriminating at all, and he's hitting small children, he's hitting young women, he's hitting elderly women," Schwartz said. "No matter who you are, you're going to know, love or be someone that could be his victim.

"We have a lot of personnel now out on the street, but we can't see through walls," the lieutenant said.

Miami is home to many immigrants, and officials asked for their assistance in finding the rapist. Deputy Police Chief Frank Fernandez pledged publicly Wednesday that any undocumented immigrants who came forward with information would not be questioned about their immigration status.

"The thing that's happening that's kind of nice is a great outpouring of people from the community, pitching in, looking for the guy," Schwartz said. "This is a community concern."

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