Remain in open areas and don’t walk alone – that’s the message police are telling Newcastle parents to impress upon their children as the hunt continues for a man who sexually assaulted and abducted a young girl only metres from a suburban street.
The advice came from the State Crime Command Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad’s commander as the attacker remained at large on Thursday.
Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec urged parents to be “more vigilant” until police got their man.
“I’d be sitting down with my children and setting out some ground rules about where they can go and where they can’t go, what to do if they’re feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, who they can turn to, who they can run to,” he said.
“The message we have is to walk with someone, to walk in an open area, to be aware of your surroundings. But not withstanding, whether any of those [measures] would have prevented this attack, I don’t know.”
It comes after an 11-year-old girl was set upon by a man armed with a knife as she was walking to school, through Adamstown Heights, about 9.15am on Tuesday.
The attacker sexually assaulted her in bushland on the edge of Hudson Park – in a usually quiet neighbourhood between two schools – before he drove her to another bushland spot nearby where the ordeal continued over the next five hours.
The man left the girl, who cannot be identified, at Kotara train station about 2.15pm. She walked more than a kilometre to a family member’s house to raise the alarm. Senior police have repeatedly called the attack “horrendous”.
Ten State Crime Command detectives have been sent to the Hunter to help with the case, while extra investigators have been enlisted to follow leads from Sydney.
“I can assure [parents in the community] that we are extremely focused and committed to finding the person responsible,” Detective Superintendent Kerlatec said.
“I share their concerns. It’s worrying that this person was able to commit this horrendous crime in broad daylight on a young girl.
“We are throwing every piece of resource we have at it to identify this person, arrest this person and put him before the court.”
Police continued their search on Thursday, combing Adamstown Heights and Kotara for more clues.
Investigators have door-knocked and conducted a letterbox drop to residents in the Hudson Park area.
“Today we are following every bit of lead we’ve received from the community,” Detective Superintendent Kerlatec said.
“We’re scouring through the evidence we have so far, we’re working closely with a very brave young child who has continued, despite the horrendous crime on her, to be committed to helping police on this matter.
“We are encouraged by the overwhelming response from the community. We encourage anyone with any information who hasn’t come forward yet to do so.”
CCTV footage from Kotara railway station has so far turned up nothing useful and police have not yet identified specific suspects – they were still casting “a broad net” on Thursday.
Investigators were also following several lines of enquiry in their search for the red sedan used during the attack but had “nothing firm”.
Aside from Hudson Park, where the 11-year-old was first assaulted and abducted, police also established a crime scene at Kotara Park – with investigators paying particular attention to the scout hall.
Detective Superintendent Kerlatec would not confirm how that scene was linked to the broader investigation on Thursday.
“What transpired through those hours is part of our puzzle,” he said.
“That’s why we’re asking for people who have seen something suspicious. It may not have been in the Adamstown area immediately – it may have been in an adjoining town, we don’t know.”
The man 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 was wearing a black and grey hoodie with a distinctive blue panel on the front.
Police added on Thursday the man was also wearing jeans, beige shoes and smelled of a mixture of body odour and cigarettes.
He was last seen driving a red car, suspected to be a Holden Commodore sedan, which police believe was parked in or near Terrence Street on Tuesday morning.
Information can be reported anonymously via Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000.