St. Paul police are investigating the “brutal assault” of a 5-year-old girl found Monday morning near her school bus stop partly undressed and bleeding from the nose and mouth.
It’s “very possible” that the girl was sexually assaulted, police spokesman Steve Linders said at a news conference Tuesday, but “right now, we just don’t know.” A public police report categorized the case as a “sex offense-assault, rape attempts.”
There were no arrests in the case Tuesday and no known witnesses, police said as they called on the public’s help to identify the suspect.
“It’s a crime that makes us all sick to our stomach and has become the top priority for the St. Paul Police Department,” Linders said. “We are using all available resources to find out who’s responsible for what happened.”
The crime that shocked neighbors occurred on a busy corner of the city’s North End neighborhood, where several school buses drove by, foot traffic was steady and where a fair number of residents and children were home Tuesday morning.
Broken nose, tears
According to police: A bus driver for a charter school spotted the girl about 8:08 a.m. at the southwest corner of Cook Avenue and Park Street. The driver was waiting for a different student when he saw the girl hiding behind a tree.
The girl, whose mother had dropped her off about 7:55 a.m. to catch a bus on the southeast corner of the intersection, had a broken nose and was crying “hysterically,” Linders said.
“She took off running at him and toward the school bus.” Linders said.
“She was carrying a shoe in one hand and her pants and underwear were down around her right ankle.”
The girl was unable to tell the driver what happened, and he called 911.
Linders said the girl’s regular school bus had arrived at its usual time — about 8:05 a.m. — but the driver didn’t see her. The driver waited and then left.
Police are working with the Midwest Children’s Resource Center, where the girl was interviewed Tuesday. Linders said the girl described her assailant, whom she had never seen before, as a black male — a “big, older boy” — wearing a blue shirt and blue pants.
It’s unclear where the assault took place.
“We’re dealing with a 5-year-old who has been traumatized, who’s doing the very best she can to provide us with information, but it’s sensitive,” Linders said of the investigation. “You have to go slow. You have to follow the protocols.”
Police canvassed the area looking for witnesses and also stepped up patrols.
Neighbors said the attack was especially concerning because several buses stop at the intersection to pick up students.
“It’s really scary that this could happen under [our] nose, with students, parents and kids walking by all the time,” said Angelique Rush, who lives nearby and has four children between 2 and 14.
Rush’s 11-year-old daughter, who has to walk two blocks to her bus stop, stayed home from school Tuesday, too fearful because of Monday’s assault.
Rush said she has seen the young girl several times before, both walking in the neighborhood and waiting for the bus.
Neighbor Jody Zuniga said the girl often played outside with what appeared to be a younger sister under the attentive watch of their father.
“She was super nice, super friendly,” Zuniga said of the girl.
Jerry Knight, who said he knew the girl’s grandmother, stopped by the family’s home Tuesday afternoon to deliver a care package containing a balloon, stuffed animals and crayons for the girl. Her family was not home.
“Just want to send my heart out,” Knight said. “She’s not my family, but she’s part of the human family.”
By Tuesday night, the girl wanted to play and to tell family members how she’d gotten stickers at her doctor’s visit, the girl’s aunt said.
“She’s actually really resilient,” the aunt said. “Physically, she’s beat up real bad. Mentally, she’s good.”
The pre-kindergartener probably won’t be going back to school anytime soon unless she goes with her mother, who works in the district, the aunt said.
Right now, the aunt said, the “whole community is more traumatized by it than her.” The child’s family is worried about long-term consequences, she said, adding, “I don’t know what we’re going to do to keep her mentally strong.”
The aunt said she’d like to see cameras installed at school bus stops to help prevent any other children from harm.
The St. Paul School District e-mailed a letter about the assault to families at four schools Tuesday written by its director of security and emergency management, Laura Olson.
The letter provided a list of safety tips, including: Don’t approach vehicles, walk on main streets instead of cutting through yards, call 911 to report suspicious activity and walk or bike in groups.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call police at 651-266-5685.