St. Paul police officials and the president and CEO of Catholic Charities got an earful at a public meeting Thursday night from residents of Ramsey Hill, where a 7-year-old girl was abducted in broad daylight and sexually assaulted a week earlier.
“This is an unfathomable crime,” Interim Police Chief Kathy Wuorinen said after addressing a crowd of about 200 that gathered at St. Paul College. “It was painful for our entire city, especially the residents of Ramsey Hill, as well as residents living in the North End, because we had another child assaulted there as well.
“I feel like we had a very productive meeting tonight, and while it was painful at times for me to hear what the community had to say, I do understand it. I feel frustrated myself,” the interim chief said.
According to police officials, the conversation at Thursday night’s meeting was raw at times and the crowd’s anger was quick.
Mary Nash, senior commander of the Western District, was going through a list of safety tips when several attendees essentially told her to get on with it. She segued into details of what happened the evening of May 5:
The 7-year-old girl and her father were in the 300 block of Dayton Avenue as he checked on a property he owns. The girl was out of his sight just a minute when she went missing.
Police were able to obtain descriptions from several witnesses of a man who had been in the area “acting strangely.” The girl was later found in a room at a Catholic Charities residence. Mark S. Meihofer, 47, was charged Friday with kidnapping and first-degree sexual assault.
Meihofer has been the subject of several police calls in the past year, one involving a man exposing himself to a woman, another about a man who appeared to be watching children at a nearby park. He was charged in Anoka County in 2011 after he offered a 13-year-old girl $10,000 to have sex with him. He was found not guilty because of mental illness and civilly committed for a year.
On Thursday night, police spokesman Steve Linders said the crowd drilled Wuorinen and Tim Marx, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. They wanted to know: Was he registered as a sex offender? If so, why weren’t neighbors told where he was living? Why wasn’t Meihofer arrested after the previous police calls? Why did it take so long for police to connect the dots between those calls and the girl’s assault?
“Part of the problem is that these reports come in at different times, and while they might be referencing the same individual, it’s not always clear it’s the same person,” Linders said. “Some of these reports came in months apart.”
In addition, technology doesn’t always make it easy for officers to make connections between incidents. While descriptions might match, often there isn’t a name attached to a report. Neighbors are notified when a Level 3 sex offender moves into the area, but authorities aren’t allowed to give out the exact address.
“Chief Wuorinen is committed to looking into this and aggressively seeking any solution that might fill those gaps,” Linders said.
Marx took his share of criticism as well, after sharing information with the crowd about who lives at the boardinghouse, about the mission of Catholic Charities and what safeguards they have in place.
The complaint against Meihofer said an employee at the front desk of the boardinghouse recognized the description of the child and noted that Meihofer had taken her to his room. Surveillance footage showed Meihofer carrying her inside the lobby.
Police also held a community meeting Monday night to talk about the assault of a 5-year-old girl in the North End. She was waiting for a school bus at the corner of Cook Avenue and Park Street when she was assaulted between 7:55 and 8:08 a.m. Police have not called Monday’s incident a sexual assault, but said that a school bus driver found her with her underwear and pants around one leg, carrying a shoe in one hand.
Linders said Thursday that evidence suggests that the two cases are not connected; there are no leads in the May 2 assault. To contact police, call 651-266-5658.