GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Alachua County Sheriff's Office is searching for a man who deputies said attempted to sexually assault a 16-year-old girl Tuesday morning on her way to a Gainesville school bus stop.
Investigators said the teen told them she was walking to the bus stop on Southwest 75th Street around 7:15 a.m. when a man approached and began to follow her.
The victim said the man eventually pulled her to the ground and attempted to rip off her clothing, but she fought and screamed and was able to escape and call police.
"When he was attempting to tear her clothing off, she began to kick and scream and fight and was afraid of what was happening," Art Forgey of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office said. "And whether it was that fight that she put up or something else, she was able to free herself and run."
Investigators said the girl had scratches on her stomach and her clothes were torn and dirty when they found her. She received medical attention as a precaution.
"The initial deputy arriving on scene said that she was still crying and very upset and visibly shaken," Forgey said. "Was he hiding out in the woods? Was he peeking in windows? You know, obviously, it's a serious situation that we need to try to get to the bottom of."
Caleb Tisin, a freshman at Buchholz High School, uses the same bus stop as the victim and said it will be a tough night's sleep for him, knowing someone he probably rides to school with was targeted.
"I probably talk to her on the bus all the time. She probably sits next to me all the time," Tisin said. "It's crazy."
The girl described the attacker as a black male, approximately 40-50 years of age, with a bald head and wrinkles on his forehead. She also said he had a full beard that appeared to be recently groomed, but no mustache.
The victim said she had not seen the man in the area before.
Investigators have yet to track down any witnesses but said they'll be going door to door in the coming days to find any new clues.
That visibility brings comfort to area residents like Lynette Franklin, who said she'll be sharing the information with her own teenage daughter.
"I'm definitely going to tell her, because she needs to be aware. As always, have someone with you, always check your surroundings, always just try to be aware," Franklin said. "I couldn't imagine. My daughter is 17. So now, I'm considering getting her in some self-defense classes if she's going to be attacked walking to the bus stop, you know?
"Honestly, I would get a gun, because this isn't the first time that young girls, women have been attacked right here in Gainesville."
Investigators will also talk to the victim again to see if she can help them come up with a composite sketch.
Anyone with information or who recognizes the man's description is asked to call Detective Jeff Fricker at 352-367-4169. Callers may also remain anonymous and be eligible to receive a reward of up to $1,000 by calling Crime Stoppers at (352) 372-STOP (7867).