An 11-year-old girl fought off her attempted kidnapper while she waited for the school bus on Tuesday morning in Pensacola, Florida, chilling video footage shows.
The girl was on her knees waiting for the bus when surveillance cameras caught a white Dodge Journey driving past her multiple times, WFLA-TV reported.
The SUV eventually stopped and a man reportedly armed with a knife got out and started running toward the girl.
She quickly grabbed her backpack and started to run away, but the man caught up to her and grabbed her.
As he pulled her toward his car, she punched and kicked at her attempted kidnapper until he tripped and released his grasp. Then the girl raced home.
“His intent [was] to get her into his car and from that point on, we have no idea what horrors would have awaited this pool little girl,” Escambia County Sheriff Chip Simmons said at a news conference.
The sheriff’s office quickly started a full-force, hours-long manhunt to locate the suspect, The Washington Post reported.
Deputies knocked on doors and eventually found a recently painted vehicle. Other security footage at a grocery store helped identify the suspect, who was seen with his arms covered in the blue slime the girl had been playing with.
Jared Paul Stranga, 30, was arrested Tuesday evening — about eight hours after the abduction attempt — and charged with attempted kidnapping of a child under age 13, aggravated assault and aggravated battery, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
Stranga has an extensive criminal history, including past sexual crimes against children, the report said.
“I cannot help to think that this could have ended very differently,” Simmons said.
“Had this 11-year-old victim not thought to fight and to fight and to just never give up, then this could have ended terribly,” he said.
This was not the girl’s first run-in with Stranga; two weeks before this incident, the suspect had allegedly approached her at the same bus stop and spoke to her in Spanish.
She told her mom, teachers and school principal about the incident, and her mother stayed with her at the bus stop. Tuesday was the first day the mother had felt comfortable with her going on her own again.
“We believe that this person has either been watching her specifically or was walking around, looking for an opportunity. Either way, it’s bad,” Simmons said at an earlier news conference.
The girl is doing OK with a few scratches and “mental trauma,” said the sheriff, who called Stanga an “animal” and described his actions as “evil.”
“She fought like a trooper, and one of these days I’m going to give her an award for fighting and fighting and fighting,” he said.
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