LADERA RANCH – Two 12-year-old boys escaped from an armed assailant Sunday evening, authorities said, after the attacker dragged one of the boys and told him to take off his pants, according to Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
One of the boys threw wood chips in the man’s face, and the two boys flagged someone down for help, Amormino said.
Authorities say the attack was reported at about 7:30 p.m. after one of the boys was spotted barefooted and wearing boxer shorts near Avendale Boulevard and Daisy Street.
The two 12-year-olds were playing at a swing set at Ladera Ranch Elementary School when they were approached from behind by a man wearing a red bandanna and holding a folding knife with a three- or four-inch blade, Amormino said. One of the boys ran away, but the other was dragged 10 to 15 feet by the attacker.
The attacker was described by the boys as a man in his early 20s, wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans and sandals.
“He told the victim to take off his pants, then to take off his boxers,” Amormino said.
The boy then threw wood chips at the man and ran away.
Deputies searched the immediate area, but were unable to locate a suspect, Amormino said.
Investigators have begun checking registered sex offenders and passing out information to residents near the school and Founders Park.
Authorities requested a sketch artist as well, but were unable to create a sketch of the man because his face had been covered by a bandanna, Amormino said.
South County schools on Monday began sending alerts to parents about the incident, asking parents to be vigilant and take the time to talk to children about safety.
“This is a very scary incident happening too close to home,” said Caren Edler, PTA president at Ladera Ranch Elementary School. “My husband and I will remind and educate our second-grader and kindergartner on stranger danger tonight.”
Joe McGann, principal of Chaparral Elementary School in Ladera Ranch, sent an email to parents Monday morning with safety tips, such as not getting into a car with a stranger, going to crowded areas if they are being followed, and yelling if someone tries to take them somewhere by force.
“We are working closely with law enforcement and communicating with parents and students to be aware of their surroundings,” said Marcus Walton, spokesman for the Capistrano Unified School District.
Heidi Wickstrom, whose daughter goes to kindergarten at Ladera Ranch Elementary, said that because of the incident, she decided to drive her child to school Monday instead of walking.
“I was thinking about how helpless I would be if someone approached me. We are all freaked out,” Wickstrom said. “The part that makes me most uncomfortable is that they haven’t caught him yet.”
Shawna Villacana was at the park next to Ladera Ranch Elementary with her toddler Monday.
“I am shocked,” she said. “You think you live in Pleasantville but this is really a reality check.”
“It’s scary,” said Ladera Ranch mom Kristie Buehler, as she watched over her kids at a Ladera Ranch park Monday. “I think we let our guard down sometimes because we think it is so safe here. This is a good reminder to remind our kids about the stranger danger tips.”
Anyone with information on the incident is asked to contact sheriff’s officials at 714-628-7170. Anonymous tips can be submitted to Orange County Crime Stoppers at 855-TIP-OCCS or 855-847-6227. Tips can also be sent online at occrimestoppers.org.
By SALVADOR HERNANDEZ and MARIE EKBERG PADILLA/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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