ST. PAUL — It’s been five years since a male led a 5-year-old girl away from her St. Paul school bus stop and sexually assaulted her, in a case that remains unsolved.

The girl is now a fourth grader who dreams of becoming a veterinarian and stays upbeat, though she recently experienced another trauma. Her father died by suicide on her 10th birthday, her mother said.

The mother said she continues to be saddened that the male who raped her daughter “is still out there.”

Police say they’ve never stopped investigating and they’re still asking anyone with information to come forward.

Investigation remains active

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Police have DNA evidence in the case, but the evidence has not been linked to other unsolved crimes. The evidence also hasn’t matched anyone in a nationwide law enforcement database. If the suspect is arrested in another case and his DNA is collected, St. Paul police would be notified of the match, said Sgt. Scott Sandell, the case’s lead investigator.

The “nature of the violent crime and the age of our victim” makes it a case that investigators won’t give up on, said Sandell, who works in the sexual violence unit.

“The department is determined that there’s solvability to it and that moving forward we’re going to get the break we need — the information or piece of evidence to resolve it,” he said Monday, May 3.

St. Paul police Sgt. Scott Sandell near the spot where the girl was found. (Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press)
St. Paul police Sgt. Scott Sandell near the spot where the girl was found. (Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press)

Attacked while waiting for the bus

It was the morning of May 2, 2016, a Monday, when the girl’s mother dropped her off at her school bus stop in the North End.

Sometime after, a male crossed the street toward the girl in the area of Park Street and Cook Avenue and told her, “Come with me,” the girl’s mother said in 2016. The girl said, “no,” but he grabbed her hand and led her away.

The male brought her up an alley, and the girl says he took her into a yard. The girl reported he hit her in the face over and over again.

A school bus driver found her soon after, with her pants and underwear around her right ankle. She was bleeding from the nose and mouth and crying so much that she could not initially tell police officers what happened.

Police say the male raped the girl and physically assaulted her sometime between 7:48 to 8:06 a.m. Police believe it happened outdoors, somewhere near Park Street and Cook Avenue.

Any tips sought

The girl described her attacker as “a big older boy,” but investigators aren’t sure what age that would have meant to a 5-year-old. She said he was a Black male, with caramel-colored skin and with light-colored eyes, wearing a blue shirt and blue pants.

The description was the best the girl could give, but it might not be exact due to the trauma she experienced. Police have suggested people not get hung up on the description and have asked anyone with any piece of information to come forward.

“We want to shed light on it again,” Sandell said. “In five years, people hear about things or something might make sense to them that didn’t back then. … It can be the smallest, littlest insignificant thing that actually breaks a case wide open for us, and we just don’t want to miss those opportunities.”

People in the neighborhood gave police “a lot of information on potential leads” and investigators “followed up with dozens and dozens of people,” Sandell said.

Sgt. Scott Sandell says police have never stopped looking for the person responsible. (Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press)
Sgt. Scott Sandell says police have never stopped looking for the person responsible. (Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press)

Girl aspires to become vet

It was important to the girl’s family to move away from the neighborhood after she was attacked and they’re now living in a nearby community.

The girl still has safety concerns and her family got her an emotional support dog, said her mother. The Pioneer Press is not naming her to avoid identifying her daughter.

The 10-year-old “thinks positively, and always about what other people need before her own needs,” her mother said. “She’s definitely the child who’s saying, ‘Well, mom, they don’t have one,’ or ‘Mom, I would like to get one for them.”

She loves swimming, cooking, crafts and animals, which drives her interest in becoming a vet and wanting to volunteer at a pet shelter.

She’s been in therapy and made progress, but is experiencing another challenging time with the loss of her father. Her mother plans to take her to therapy again.

The girl remembers some of what happened when she was 5; she doesn’t like to talk to her mom about it. “If she’s going to discuss it, she’ll tell her cousins or someone more of her age,” her mother said.

Sandell, who’s been the case’s investigator for about eight months, was one of the many officers assigned on May 2, 2016, to canvass the neighborhood. His youngest daughter was 2 at the time.

“As a human, as a … father, that was just heart wrenching,” Sandell said. “… Now, I’m working on the case and trying to resolve it and get this victim, get this family closure.”

How to help

Police are asking anyone with information to contact them at 651-266-5754.

A GoFundMe for the girl, online at bit.ly/FundForGirl, is intended for therapy costs not covered by insurance, furniture for the girl’s bedroom at the new house, along with her education and sports.