Police continued to search late Wednesday for a man who attempted to abduct an 11-year-old Mandeville girl as she walked home from the school bus stop.
The girl, a sixth-grader at Tchefuncte Middle School, got off the bus shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday near the intersection of Cambronne Street and Barbara Place, Capt. Ronald Ruple said. When she had walked the nearly 150 feet to her home, a man in a late-model, rusted sedan pulled up next to her and got out.
The man asked if she needed a ride home. The girl fled toward her front door and the man pursued her “about halfway across the yard,” said the girl’s father, David Crawford. But he apparently gave up when he realized the girl was going for the door.
Crawford said his daughter came through the door crying, and it took him a minute to figure out what was wrong. When he did, he immediately ran back outside, but the man was nowhere to be seen.
There were no witnesses to the encounter. The bus driver had already pulled away from the stop, Ruple said. Others in the area surveyed by police reported seeing a man and a vehicle that matched the description, Ruple said.
His daughter was “a little shaken,” but otherwise OK, Crawford said. She attended school Wednesday and rode the bus home. The bus dropped her off in front of her house, where her father was waiting.
“She wanted me to be here when she got off the bus,” he said.
Crawford said the brazen abduction attempt is a nightmare for any parent.
“I was just glad she ran inside the house,” he said.
The young girl described her pursuer as a heavy-set Hispanic man with short hair, a mustache and glasses who pulled up next to her as she walked home in Mandeville’s New Golden Shores neighborhood, police said.
Late Wednesday, Ruple released a composite sketch of the suspect, created with guidance from the victim. The sketch showed an olive-complexioned man with cropped, wavy hair standing straight up. According to police, he was wearing a blue polo shirt when he approached the girl.
The girl also described the car as a mid-1980s to early 1990s model Cadillac DeVille or Chevrolet Caprice, Ruple said. The car is either gray or green with rust and peeling paint and dents on the hood and driver’s side door.
Mandeville police have asked the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office and other police departments to keep an eye out for the man, according to Ruple. The department had also notified State Police troops across southeast Louisiana, he said.
As of late Wednesday, detectives had received some tips, but it was too early to tell if any of them would pan out, Ruple said.
“We are reviewing everything: traffic cameras, surveillance cameras, anything,” Ruple said.
In addition, the St. Tammany Parish School System notified the parents of children at two schools — Tchefuncte Middle School and Pontchartrain Elementary — of the attempted abduction, according to spokeswoman Meredith Mendez. A letter and a copy of a news release about the encounter put out by the Mandeville Police Department was sent home with each student at the two schools.
“I want to assure you that school system officials are working closely with the Mandeville Police Department and have asked for extra patrols in the neighboring areas,” the letter from Tchefuncte Middle Principal Mitch Stubbs said.
Officials also personally called the parent of every child who rides the same bus as the 11-year-old, Mendez said.
School officials only learned of the attempted abduction around noon Wednesday after being contacted by police, Mendez said. Approximately 28,000 students ride the system’s 370 buses every day.
Anyone with any information about the case is asked to call the Mandeville Police Department at (985) 626-9711.