THE man who tried to abduct a Wodonga schoolgirl as she walked home may have been loitering in the area days before the disturbing attack, a witness has told police.
The information comes as police yesterday released a second image of the attacker and new details including that the man may have sat in his car for several minutes after his attack.
Detective Sen-Sgt Kevin Coughlan said a woman living near Lawrence Street, where the attempted abduction took place, told police she saw a man fitting the description loitering in the area days before.
Police found the new witness when they door-knocked the area during their investigations and Sen-Sgt Coughlan said she was able to provide a description that led to yesterday’s release of a second image of the attacker.
The second image, in addition to the image generated from the victim’s description, shows a balding man aged between 50 and 60 with grey hair on each side of his head and wearing a dark T-shirt.
Police yesterday revealed they had two strong leads to the perpetrator of an attack they were increasingly certain was planned.
“It’s random in that the victim was random, but deliberate in waiting on someone or something,” Sen-Sgt Coughlan said.
“If it had not been that girl, it would’ve been the next girl. He was there for a purpose and she was the person that happened to walk by and walk into a trap.”
Sen-Sgt Coughlan would not elaborate on the strong leads, concerned any release of further information may hinder catching the offender.
He said the girl, 15, had been walking the same route she had taken on a daily basis.
She was walking home from school along Lawrence Street, opposite Kelly Park, about 3.40pm when she went to the aid of a man with a large belly who appeared to have stumbled.
The man asked the teenager for help to his car and when she obliged, he forced her into the vehicle and physically assaulted her.
The girl was able to escape and Sen-Sgt Coughlan said she ran to her friend’s place before going home when she was then taken to Wodonga hospital for treatment for her injuries.
It is believed her attacker had meanwhile pulled out into Lawrence Street in his late-model, black sedan with a similar shape to an Audi, then pulled straight back into a parking spot.
He had then sat in his car for several minutes before driving away north on Melrose Drive.
Sen-Sgt Coughlan said the girl was at home recovering with the support of her family.
“She’s going to be traumatised and her trust, those core values she has been taught by her parents, have been brought into question by this one incident,” he said.
He said police were checking known sex offenders in the region and reviewing past abduction attempts as a matter of course.
Investigators from the Melbourne-based sex crimes squad and Wodonga’s sexual offences and child abuse investigation team are examining all information they have received in the past two days.
“They’ve been more than impressed with the information flow coming in from the public. Everyone keep it up and be mindful to call Crime Stoppers,” Sen-Sgt Coughlan said.
He said among the witnesses were those who were reversing vehicles out of their driveways in the street at the time of the attack.
“They’ve turned into some fairly important witnesses,” he said.
He said they did not see the girl being pushed into the car, but witnessed her jumping out of the car and running down the street.
“I have no doubt if they were 30 seconds earlier, things would be different, we might have someone in custody,” he said.
“Even though they thought what they saw was strange, (because they didn’t witness the first stages of the attack) they didn’t turn their minds to it a lot more.”
He urged anyone with information — including recognising the attacker from the images, witnessing the attack or the moments before or afterwards — to phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Sen-Sgt Coughlan said Crime Stoppers staff were prioritising information about the attack to be passed onto investigators.