A 23-year-old man accused of abducting and sexually assaulting a 4-year-old Delaware girl drove around searching for a victim, police said. After the incident, police said he jumped on a bus and left the state.
New Castle police announced attempted murder, kidnapping and sexual assault charges Monday afternoon against Daniel Santucci Jr., calling him a "predator."
"I share the feeling of relief with the community and our officers now that this predator is off the street," New Castle County Police Chief Vaughn Bond Jr., who called the crime "heinous" and "despicable," said.
"Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to the victim and her family because their lives have been altered forever," Bond said.
Investigators said the 23-year-old suspect lured his 4-year-old victim while she played with friends along the 4800 block of Sugar Plum Court in the Plum Run neighborhood of Pike Creek on April 6 around 7 p.m.
The suspect forced the girl -- who he didn't know -- into his car then sped off, causing several children to scream and give chase. A woman heard the cries and called officials.
"The person approached the little girl and he said he had something for her mommy," neighbor Megan Gardner told police. "She went to get it from him and he grabbed her."
A Good Samaritan found the young girl nearly two hours later in a wooded section of nearby Banning Park wearing little clothing. The Good Samaritan comforted the girl until police arrived.
The girl was taken to a local hospital where investigators discovered signs of sexual assault. She was treated and released.
Further investigation revealed that at one point Santucci tried to kill the girl by throwing her into a large pond in Wilmington's Banning Park but the girl survived, according to police.
"I want to thank the victim for her bravery," Bond said.
Police were tipped off to Santucci, who had no previous contact with his victim, on April 11. He matched witness accounts. That same day, police found his black Honda Civic abandoned, still running in the middle of a Centerville road with the driver's door open.
The vehicle was consistent with the one used in the abduction, Bond said.
On April 20, police arrested Santucci in Tampa, Florida on a probation violation. Investigators said he had boarded a Greyhound bus -- a violation of his parole in Delaware for an earlier burglary charge.
Santucci was sent back to Delaware on May 1. Further investigation revealed he had child pornography -- not related to this case -- on him, police said.
Santucci was housed in county jail unable to post more than $1 million bail. It was unclear if Santucci had an attorney who could comment on the case.
Prior to his most recent arrest, Santucci pleaded guilty in 2014 to possessing and distributing marijuana in Ocean City, Maryland. He was also convicted of burglary in Hockessin in May of 2012. Santucci was charged with kidnapping and assault in 2010 but those charges were later dropped.
Police said they continued to investigate to see if Santucci victimized any other children. Bond thanked various agencies including police in Tampa and U.S. Marshals for helping find Santucci.