WILMINGTON, Del. — In describing the abduction and sexual assault of a 4-year-old girl Thursday, New Castle County Police Lt. Col. Vaughn Bond needed only one word: "monster."
Stolen off the street as she was playing with friends and found scantly clothed in Banning Park, near Newport, just two hours later, the Village of Plum Run girl is alive and safe but stripped of her innocence, Bond said during a press conference Friday afternoon. Police have very little in the way of leads or evidence.
"I can assure the public that this incident is by far the No. 1 priority for New Castle County Police Department," Bond said. "There is nothing lower that a person can do than to take advantage and sexually abuse and take the innocence of a 4-year-old child."
It's believed the abduction was a random act unfocused on that particular child, Bond said, and all police know about the perpetrator is he is white or Hispanic and drove a dark four-door sedan. Bond urged community members to keep their eyes open and report whatever might be useful.
County police responded to the 4800 block of Sugar Plum Court around 7 p.m. Thursday to a call concerning a child abduction.
Witnesses in the area observed a 4-year-old girl playing outside when she was approached by a white man with dark hair driving a dark-colored sedan with tinted windows, said Officer First Class JP Piser, a county police spokesman.
Bond said the victim was with friends "doing what kids do, playing and having a good time" when a man drove up in the sedan and "engaged the 4-year-old in small conversation." He was able to lure her near enough his car to capture her and drive off.
The victim's friends chased after the car but gave up their pursuit quickly, turning then to find an adult who would call the police.
Around 8:45 p.m., a 911 call was received from an adult who saw the child walking in Banning Park. Bond said the girl's abductor had released her.
New Castle County Police received "the immediate assistance" of the FBI; the Delaware State Police; the Newport Police Department; the Delaware Attorney General's Office; and the Child Advocacy Center of Delaware, which conducted a careful debriefing interview with the girl.
The hunt for the abductor continued Friday morning with a lockdown of Banning Park. Police cruisers lined the perimeter of the woody area in Newport and warned away passers-by as police scoured for evidence of any kind. Bond did not indicate they discovered any such evidence.
"Every member of the New Castle County Police Department is committed, regardless of their assignment, to solving and apprehending this heartless monster," Bond said. "We're going to do everything in our power. We're going to take any assistance we can get."
County Executive Matthew Meyer urged parents in New Castle to speak to their children and reinforce the need to stay away from strangers and to tell an adult if they're approached by someone they don't know.
"To parents out there, to people out there living in our community, I want you to be vigilant. When your kids are playing outside, I want you to make sure an adult is supervising, has eyes on those kids," Meyer said. "Let's all take care of each other."
Three women in New Castle County, Del., recently have reported a man abducted and assaulted or attempted to abduct them, but Bond said the crimes — both in the way they were conducted and the chosen targets for them — are very different.
"I will not say that is not possible; however, the MO (method of operation) is vastly different," Bond said.
Anyone with information on this incident can contact New Castle County Police at (302) 573-2800. Citizens can also submit a tip via our website at www.nccpd.com. Tipsters also may call Crime Stoppers at (800) TIP-3333 or visit the New Castle County Police Department's Facebook page.
Citizens who have the smartphone application are encouraged to use the “submit tip” tab. Select a topic by using the drop-down and complete the tip by clicking submit. The New Castle County Police smartphone application is free to download and available for all iPhone and Android smartphones.