Serial Molester Casts Pall Over LA Schools
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ One by one, 32 children fell prey to a serial molester who stalked them on their way to and from schools, filling classrooms with fear and mocking a police manhunt.
No one was in custody Tuesday in connection with the attacks. A suspect in custody over the weekend was released.
The attacks in the suburban San Fernando Valley began in February, but it took until November for police to realize a serial molester was responsible.
And despite increased police patrols, the attacks continued as recently as Friday.
″It’s hard to believe this man is as bold as he is and is doing what he’s doing,″ said Jill McNulty, a PTA co-president at Robert A. Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks. ″Like the police say, his obsession has overcome his fear, which is very dangerous.″
McNulty drives her own daughters, a senior and a ninth-grader, to and from school each day.
Police took in five men who resembled descriptions provided by victims - a balding man with slight beard, age 35 to 45, 180 to 200 pounds, often seen driving a burgundy sedan or a van.
But as of Tuesday, all five men had been released. The last of the five in custody, a man who was arrested Friday for investigation of committing a lewd or lascivious act with a child under 14, was freed Tuesday for lack of evidence, said police Officer Art Holmes.
Sgt. Paul McMillin said officers would continue beefed-up patrols near 124 elementary schools.
In the most serious attack, a 9-year-old girl was dragged into an apartment building and raped Nov. 3. In most of the others, the molester fondled boys and girls.
Police didn’t tell school officials about their investigation until Nov. 11, and announced it to the media four days later.
Furious parents and some school officials asked why the attacks weren’t publicized from the beginning so they could protect their children.
One police commander said it wasn’t until after the Nov. 3 rape that detectives handling separate molestation cases began to share evidence.
Another officer said police feared publicity would drive the molester away.
But the molestations continued.
In the first attack on a school campus, a man on Friday grabbed a girl outside Van Nuys Elementary School. Earlier that day, a man tried to lure another girl into his vehicle as she walked with two friends to Millikan Junior High School. The girl and her friends ran away.
″It has been traumatic for the kids and the adults,″ Principal David Almada said.
School officials talk bluntly with children about the threat, said Dr. Loeb Aronin, director of psychological counseling for the Los Angeles school district, the nation’s second largest.
″Kids are just like real people. When they don’t have enough facts they start imagining,″ Aronin said.
″We’re encouraging the adults ... to be supportive, positive, to tell them: ‘We’re out to take care of you,’ ″ Aronin said.
Until the case is closed, many parents plan to keep a close eye on their children.
″It’s so you can guarantee you get them back after school the same way they left home,″ said Laurie Daney, who walked her child to Van Nuys Elementary School on Monday.