Police are looking for a white van whose driver chased a 13-year-old girl through a west Morgan Hill neighborhood Friday morning.
The van might be associated with at least two other similar incidents in recent weeks, and police are reminding parents to talk to their children about how to stay safe and to seek educational and safety information.
Police also released a sketch of the suspect who was driving the van. The suspect has been described as bald or having a crew cut.
About 8:49 a.m. Friday, a 13-year-old girl was walking on Ciolino Avenue when she noticed a white mid-sized utility van following her, according to Morgan Hill police Sgt. Troy Hoefling.
A white man in his mid-30s exited the vehicle and began to chase the victim on foot, Hoefling said. The victim ran into a neighbor’s house where she called police.
The van was last seen traveling south on Monterey Road, police said. The van and the suspect are still outstanding.
The victim described the suspect as a white male adult with short balding hair, or a crew cut and no facial hair, Hoefling said. The suspect appeared to be in his mid-30s with a short stature, and described as “chubby.” He was last seen wearing blue jeans and a green sweatshirt, with a dark green floral vest over the sweatshirt.
The suspicious van was described as a white mid-sized utility van, Hoefling said. It had two doors on the back, with two tinted windows. The vehicle was described as “clean.”
On two earlier occasions in November, two females reported similar incidents, Hoefling added.
On Nov. 7, a 14-year-old girl reported seeing a white utility van with red lettering on the side in the area of Peak and DeWitt avenues, driven by a white male in his 30s, police said. The man had light colored hair. The victim thought the vehicle was following her as she walked several blocks through the area. That vehicle was not located.
On Nov. 24, a female jogger was followed by a white utility van with orange lettering on the side, Hoefling said. The incident occurred in the area of Del Monte Avenue and Foothill Court, and the van was gone when police arrived.
“The Morgan Hill Police Department would like to take this opportunity to remind parents to speak with their children regarding their child’s safety,” Hoefling said.
Friday’s unsettling report rides the wake of a terrible incident that continues to rock the community of Morgan Hill, when teen Sierra LaMar was kidnapped and likely murdered March 16, according to authorities.
Sierra, who was 15-year-old Sobrato High School sophomore at the time, was allegedly abducted by Antolin Garcia Torres, 21 of Morgan Hill, who she did not know, police said.
Garcia Torres was arrested May 22 by Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies for his alleged involvement in Sierra’s disappearance.
And just last week, Garcia Torres was charged with three counts of attempted kidnapping in relation to three incidents at two Morgan Hill Safeway stores, when he allegedly approached three women – who were also unknown to Garcia Torres – and tried to assault them.
In the last six months, Morgan Hill police and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputies have responded to about 120 crimes against people in the Morgan Hill area. These include mostly assaults, as well as some sexual assaults, kidnappings and domestic violence incidents, according to the CrimeReports mapping system on the City’s website.
Being aware and exercising preventive caution can make all the difference when it comes to staying safe from predators, reminds Erica Elliott, sexual assault and prevention manager with Community Solutions, a leading social services agency that serves South Santa Clara County and San Benito County.
Staying aware of one’s surroundings is hugely important.
“These days a lot of people are texting or one their phone,” noted Elliot.
Trust in your tuition – or that “uh-oh,” feeling – she added, advising to “listen to it, and know that it’s a real thing.”
If you are feeling threatened or unsafe, head for a public building such as a library, church or store if there is one nearby, she said. The Morgan Hill Police Department also has an anonymous tip line at (408) 947-7867.
Being aware not only as an individual, but as a community is important, added Elliott, who encouraged the public to report suspicious activities or vehicles. She also advised parents to talk with their children and develop safety plans together.
Women who like to go walking or jogging outside, additionally, are advised to regularly alternate their routes instead of taking the same path every day.
“Make sure that you’re creating abnormalities so that there’s a little bit of difference there,” said Elliott. “Predators can know your time and what kind of running route you take.”
Approximately 85 percent of sexual assaults occur by someone the victim knows, according to Elliott. In 2012, Community Solutions served a little less than 200 sexual assault victims between South County and San Benito County. In the U.S. each year, one in four girls, one in six boys and one in three women over the age of 18 are assaulted.
“It’s about bringing that awareness to eachother. How can we as a community now protect other children and educate them about safety?” said Elliott. “Don’t live your life in fear. Live your life in education.”
More educational and safety information is available at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website at www.missingkids.com.
Visit www.communitysolutions.org for programs and tips on safety, prevention and awareness. Community Solutions also has a sexual assault and domestic violence crisis line, (877) 363-7238.
Anyone with information about this case can contact MHPD at (408) 779-2101 or the anonymous tip line at (408) 947-7867.