- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Police were searching for a man yesterday who they say sexually assaulted an 11-year-old girl at a Target store, threatened her with a knife and moved her from department to department before releasing her.

A surveillance video from the suburban Charleston store before the assault showed the man watching the girl while her mother was shopping in another area, said South Charleston Police Sgt. Stan Miller.

“He started watching her real close in the toy section,” Sgt. Miller said. “He was following her around the rest of the store.”

South Charleston Police Lt. H.S. Leishman said the suspect posed as a security guard Saturday night, told the girl he saw her steal something and ordered her to follow him. Then he pulled a knife and forced her into the garden department where he assaulted her. When shoppers walked into the area, he led her into the men’s clothing department where he assaulted her again, Lt. Leishman said.

“People were everywhere,” Sgt. Miller said. “I don’t know how anybody didn’t see it.”

Police released a surveillance video showing the man, described as a white male in his 30s. More than 100 tips have come in since then, South Charleston Police Sgt. Robert Yeager said yesterday.

“We know this is our guy,” Sgt. Yeager said. “We’ve just got to put a name with the face. If we knew any more about him, we’d have him.”

Sgt. Yeager said the incident appeared to be isolated, but the suspect showed tendencies of being a prior offender. “We don’t have any reason to believe he’s done it around here, but he has done it before,” he said.

The girl was doing “as well as can be expected,” Sgt. Yeager said. He said police plan to offer her counseling.

Store manager Mark Hocter declined comment yesterday, saying only that “the safety of our guests and team members is our concern at all times.”

The suspect faces charges of first-degree sexual abuse and first-degree sexual assault, Sgt. Yeager said.

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