A quiet neighbourhood in suburban Newcastle – wedged between a park and two schools – has become the scene of a “horrible” and violent broad daylight attack on an 11-year-old girl.
The brazen sexual assault and abduction at Adamstown Heights, which a senior Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad detective labelled “horrendous”, has left the community reeling as investigators vow to get the attacker off the streets.
Police on Wednesday evening continued their hunt for the man who set upon the girl as she walked to school through a small patch of bushland on the edge of Hudson Park about 9.15am on Tuesday.
The man, who was armed with a knife and had a hoodie pulled up over his mouth, approached the girl from behind and threatened her with the blade before he sexually assaulted her in the park.
He then put the 11-year-old into a car and took her to another bushland location nearby where he continued to assault her over the next five hours. The attacker left the child at Kotara train station at about 2.15pm.
She walked more than a kilometre to the home of a family member, who contacted police and took her to John Hunter Hospital.
The Newcastle Herald has chosen not to name the girl’s school in order to protect her identity, at the request of police.
The crime has prompted a strong reaction from the NSW Police State Crime Command’s Child Abuse and Sex Crime Squad, which sent investigators to the Hunter to help track down the attacker.
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Jacob said Newcastle police and the State Crime Command had thrown a significant number of resources at the case, including detectives and intelligence specialists who had committed to a “painstaking” search for the man.
“Any attack on a young girl ... is horrible,” he said.
“Let me just say it was a horrible series of attacks on this young lady and I’m very thankful that we have a very brave young woman who’s been able to help us so valuably in our continuing enquiry.”
The girl was medically examined and was in the care of her family on Tuesday evening.
She has been helping police with the investigation.
“She’s doing remarkably well – she’s a very brave young lady who has intensely assisted the police in a remarkable way throughout the evening, into the late evening,” Detective Chief Inspector Jacob said.
“She spent a considerable amount of time and was able to give us some very accurate descriptions.”
A large scale search took place at Adamstown Heights on Wednesday, with investigators combing Hudson Park and the surrounding area for clues.
Police also established a crime scene around Kotara scout hall, near the railway station, but Detective Chief Inspector Jacob said this was one of several lines of inquiry.
He would not be drawn on whether police believed this was where the girl was taken during the ordeal.
“We are very open to where further crimes were committed against this young lady – we just don’t know at this point,” he said.
“It’s quite a worrying crime committed in broad daylight to a young person, a very brave young girl ... while she was on her way to school.
“It’s our mission to get this person and remove him from the community as quickly as we possibly can.”
News of the incident came as a shock to nearby residents, who told the Herald their neighbourhood was usually quiet and trouble-free – save for an occasional speeding car and the odd suspected drug deal between teenagers in the park.
Franz Zollner, a 79-year-old man who has lived opposite the park for two decades, said children walking to and from school mostly travelled in groups.
He said part of the bushland at the edge of the park was not visible from the road and “anyone could hide there”.
While Mr Zollner – like several other residents that spoke with the Herald – hadn’t heard any signs of the attack, he said Tuesday had been an unusually quiet morning without the regular parade of dog walkers and people out for a stroll.
“I’m very concerned. It’s a bad thing for the area – I hate to think there are people like this around,” he said.
“If there’s a predator around, I would like to know.”
Tiani Kolbas, 19, was visiting her grandmother Maria Drozdzewski in Terrence Street on Wednesday. Ms Kolbas said she and her twin sister often walked through the bush to the park as children and never felt unsafe.
“It was always fine,” she said.
Ms Drozdzewski said she was “very surprised” by the incident. She said the most trouble she had seen in the street over almost 50 years of living there was drivers speeding through the school zone outside her house.
Former school teacher Elaine Crawford described the attack as “terrible”.
“I think it’s a really good street with friendly people,” said Ms Crawford, who raised a family in Terrence Street after moving in 55-years-ago.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that at all, ever [in the neighbourhood]. I just can’t believe it.”
The attacker is described as having a chubby face and hands, wrinkles on his forehead and around his mouth, brown stains on his teeth, dark messy hair and wearing a black and grey hoodie with a distinctive blue panel on the front.
He was last seen driving a red car, believed to be a Holden Commodore sedan.
Investigators believe the vehicle was parked in or near Terrence Street on Tuesday morning. Police have also sought CCTV footage from Kotara train station. Witnesses or anyone with dashcam footage from the area are being urged to contact police.
“There would be people out there who would have seen this man and probably saw him before the offences,” Detective Chief Inspector Jacob said.
“We’re asking those people to come forward and help us solve this brutal crime.”
Anyone with information that could help investigators should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.