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A Florida man accused of trying to kidnap an 11-year-old girl as she waited at the bus stop is a “threat to the community” and should be kept behind bars, prosecutors argued during the suspect’s first court appearance.
Jared Paul Stanga, 30, appeared in court Wednesday via video on charges of attempted kidnapping, aggravated assault and battery.
"Mr. Stanga, in the bright light of day, attacked a child at a bus stop along a busy road with a knife and attempted to pull her into his car,” prosecutor Erin Ambrose said during the hearing, according to The Pensacola News Journal. “He's obviously a threat to this community.”
Ambrose also noted that Stanga was convicted in 2007 of child neglect, involving sexual allegations, although she did not provide any specific details about that case.
However, Stanga’s defense attorney, Robert Dees, questioned whether police had arrested the right man and said the young girl initially reported she had been attacked by an older Hispanic male, while Stanga is white.
He also said his client was not a flight risk, had lived in the area for 14 years, and is currently employed.
Judge Kerra Smith ordered Stanga to be held on a $1 million bond for the attempted kidnapping charge, a $500,000 bond on the aggravated assault charge and a $5,000 bond for the battery charge.
The harrowing kidnapping attempt Tuesday morning was captured on video by a nearby surveillance camera.
The video showed a white SUV that appeared to be a Dodge Journey pulling up alongside the young girl as she sat in a grassy area playing with some blue slime while she waited for the bus.
A man can be seen getting out of the SUV, running toward the girl, grabbing her, and attempting to carry her off, but the 11-year-old was able to fight off her attacker and break free.
Authorities said Stanga grabbed the young girl “around the neck” and had been holding a knife at the time of the kidnapping attempt, according to an arrest report obtained by Oxygen.com.
The 11-year-old ran back to her home moments later “crying and shaking” and reported the abduction attempt to her parents, who called 911.
Investigators were able to identify Stanga as a suspect in the case after reviewing multiple surveillance cameras that showed the vehicle leaving the scene of the attempted abduction and traveling down Mobile Highway before stopping at a Murphy Express convenience store.
One surveillance camera at the gas station captured the license plate number of the vehicle—which was registered to Stanga, according to the police report. It also captured a male exiting the vehicle wearing clothes similar those that had been worn by the attempted kidnapper.
Once inside the store, investigators said Stanga used a reward card while making a purchase by entering his phone number into the store’s system.
Stanga’s supervisor also told investigators that Stanga had texted at 7:02 a.m. that morning to say that he’d be late for work because he had to take his child to school, a comment the supervisor thought was odd because Stanga’s child attends virtual school, authorities said.
When he arrived at the job site around 7:45 a.m., his coworkers noted he was acting “very odd” and was repeatedly taking calls from his wife in private, according to the report.
When investigators later tracked him to his home, they found the front bumper of his SUV had been recently painted black and still smelled of fresh paint. They also found clothes in his vehicle that appeared to match those seen in the surveillance footage. He also had a “blue colored substance smeared on his left arm” believed to be the blue slime the child had been playing with at the time of the abduction attempt, according to the police report.
Authorities believe Tuesday’s attempted kidnapping may not have been Stanga’s first interaction with the 11-year-old.
She told investigators that about two to three weeks ago, she had been approached by the same man at the bus stop, who got out of his vehicle, came up to her and said “Hi.” The girl said she had been frightened and ran away to another nearby bus stop where she joined a friend. She reported the incident to a teacher and the principal when she arrived at school.
In a press conference Tuesday night, Escambia County Sheriff Chip W. Simmons commended the 11-year-old for her quick thinking.
“My message to her is that she’s my hero,” he said. “My message is that she did not give up, she did the right thing, she fought and she fought and she fought and she never gave up.”
Stanga’s next court appearance is scheduled for June 10.
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