JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hours after police announced that a 6-year-old boy was sexually assaulted inside the bathroom of a McDonald's restaurant, police announced they had arrested a man and charged him with capital sexual battery.
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Director Michael Bruno announced at a news conference late Friday night that a tip came in just after making Thursday's assault public. The tip led officers to a dumpster on Emerson Street, not far from the McDonald's where the attack occurred. They found a man hiding inside who witnesses positively identified as the suspect in the attack. His name has not been released.
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Chief Tom Hackney said the child's father entered the bathroom about 5 p.m. Thursday and saw a 25- to 30-year-old black man wearing dark clothing leaving a stall where his youngest son was pulling up his pants.
The father realized what had happened, saw the attacker running away, got in his car and pursued him east on Emerson toward Spring Park Road, but lost sight of him.
"The father, like I said, recognized something wasn't right, he took off after the subject, trying to catch up to him. He pursued the suspect from the McDonald's restaurant all the way to Spring Park and Emerson Street where he lost sight of him," Bruno said.
Once the tip about the suspect came in, patrol officers found a homeless that had been staying in the area. He was charged him with capital sexual battery and possession of marijuana.
A family member of the victim, who is not being identified due to the sensitive nature of the case, told News4Jax that this has been horrifying for the family. The woman said not only is this family coping with this horrible event, they're also facing a lot of criticism, and it hurts.
"They were in a family-oriented restaurant sitting just a couple chairs away from the bathroom," the family member said. "You can't always stop everything. This man is crazy!"
The woman also said the parents are being bashed on social media. Her hope is that people will hear her and aim their criticism at the man who did this, not the victim's mother and father, for allowing the two brothers to go to the bathroom together.
"We teach the buddy system, and that's what they did. She gave the buddy system, and it was corrupted by a grown adult. It doesn't matter how old you are, a grown man can hurt any age, male or female," said the family member.
That woman said her focus is helping this little boy cope with the ordeal.
Detectives spent Thursday night and much of Friday gathering forensic evidence and getting information from the victim, his 7-year-old brother and the father.
"With child victims, you get little bits at a time. These are traumatic events that happen to these little kids," Hackney said.
Because of the distance and difference in the nature of this attack and the one on an 8-year-old girl in the woods in Arlington on Aug. 3, police don't believe the incidents are related.
Hackney also urged parents to exercise vigilance with their young children, especially as the summer is ending.
"Parents need to be vigilant. You never know what's on the other side of a bathroom door. This is an opportunity to have those talks with your children. That goes for boys and girls," Hackney said. "Duval County School start Monday. Not only in response to this, but in response to some of the other crime involving children that we've had in the last couple weeks, we should see an police presence around Duval County public schools."
News4Jax Crime and Safety Expert Gil Smith talked said it's important for parents to talk to their children about stranger danger.
"There's a lot of good tips on that, for stranger danger. Especially with school starting. Not accepting rides from strangers, not going anywhere with a stranger, going to someone's house on the way to school," Smith said.
Smith was a school resource officer for years. He said parents should consider walking the route to school with their kids, whenever possible. And utilizing the state's sex offender and predator search website allows parents to find out who their neighbors are. Most of all, even though it's not pleasant, parents need to have that talk with their kids.
"The best place they can get that from is you. So you really need to have that talk without scaring them, without making them afraid to walk to school or use the bathroom. Just give them some safety tips. Give them some things to look out for,"
JSO said with school starting on Monday, parents can expect to see extra patrols at elementary schools.