After abduction try, schools reviewing gates for defects

He asked, “Who’s your teacher?” as the girls passed a locked and gated
entrance. The girls ignored him. Then the man pushed open the gate and
grabbed the fourth-grade girl.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN and JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
March 17, 2005

TAMPA – School officials were reviewing locked gates throughout the
district for defects Thursday after a man pushed through one, grabbed a
fourth grader by her hair and collar at her school and tried to abduct
her.

The 10-year-old girl and an 11-year-old fifth-grade girl were walking
together from a classroom to the media center at Mendenhall Elementary
School about 10 a.m. when a man tried to engage them in small talk, Tampa
police said.

He asked, “Who’s your teacher?” and other things, as the girls were
passing one of the locked and gated entrances, police and school district
officials said. But the girls ignored him and kept walking.

At that point, the man pushed open the gate and grabbed the fourth-grade
girl, said district spokesman Mark Hart.

“For whatever reason, it did not clasp and lock completely” after school
began, Hart said.

The fifth-grade girl grabbed her buddy’s arm and pulled her back toward
the school, Hart said. A car passed by at the same time. The man, whom
neither girl knew, ran off.

The girls fled to the school office, which called the police.

The girls were walking together because students always travel in pairs
on campus for safety reasons, Hart said.

But until further notice, the district directed that no elementary
school children go outside without an adult escort. Middle and high
schools were told that students may not go outside without at least one
other person.

Principals also were told to report all suspicious activity to law
enforcement.

Hillsborough schools have installed about 350 of the same gates
throughout the district since 2003. Maintenance workers were told
Thursday to check all the gates overnight to make sure the problem is not
widespread or due to a manufacturer defect instead of an isolated
incident of someone failing to close the gate.

The suspect was described as a white man between the ages of 40 and 50,
between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-8 tall, with medium-length gray-blond hair
and a full beard. He was last seen wearing a dirty blue-and-red square
jacket, black pants, black shoes and latex gloves.

To report information about the suspect, call Tampa police at 231-6130
or CrimeStoppers at (800) 873-8477.

Copyright 2005 – sptimes.com

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