As police continued searching on Monday for a man who allegedly stalked a 10-year-old girl in Rockville Centre last week as she walked to her bus stop, the village and the county police department released different accounts of the reported incident, sparking concern among local parents.
A man approached the girl near North Forest and Maple avenues on April 10 at about 8:30 a.m., Nassau County police said, and tried to persuade her to leave with him on foot. When she refused to go, police said, the man showed her a handgun and knife in his waistband.
The girl ran toward students and parents standing at the bus stop, and the man fled the scene, according to Nassau detectives. The man had reportedly been seen in that area several times since March, a spokesman for the department said, as well as near Francis F. Wilson Elementary School.
But village and school officials said they received a different account from the person who reported the incident. Village Spokeswoman Julie Scully told the Herald that the alleged occurrence was reported to village police on April 12, two days after the person claimed it happened. A man allegedly touched the fifth-grade student on the shoulder, she noted, adding that the department was not told that he was armed.
“Please be aware that although some news outlets have reported the suspect possessing a gun and knife, no reports of that kind have been made to the Rockville Centre Police Department,” Scully said. “The safety of the Rockville Centre residents is the top priority for the Rockville Centre Police Department, who are working diligently to apprehend the suspect.”
Scully added that village police believe this was an isolated incident that was directed at a specific individual. Officers have been patrolling the area, she told the Herald, but there have been no other reports of the man being seen. The alleged stalker is described as a black man, 30 to 40 years old, with black, braided hair and a braided beard.
A spokesman for the Nassau County Police Department’s Public Information Office said Tuesday that the department stood by its original report, and that there have been no updates.
Kathy Baxley, Rockville Centre’s deputy mayor, said that worried parents in the district began texting her on Monday. She posted the facts the village had gathered in their investigation on “RVC Moms,” a Facebook group she founded. “Things can sometimes spiral out of control, understandably,” she said, “but it’s often better to stop it.”
The school district also released a statement on Monday, saying that “the facts, as reported to us, are significantly different than those reported in the news and on social media.” It added that the allegation that the man had been seen previously at Wilson Elementary School was investigated, and could not be corroborated.
Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said the district was alerted about the alleged incident soon after Rockville Centre police were notified on April 12, but he was “blindsided” when he heard the NCPD’s reports about the incident. Concerned parents began calling and emailing the district on Monday morning, he added.
“The minute I saw it, I was like, ‘Oh my God, where did this come from?’” Johnson said at a budget meeting on Monday night, adding that the district had spent hours that morning reviewing details of the case. “. . . I wasn’t even sure when I first heard it if it was the same incident. That’s how different it was from what we actually knew.”
Based on the report received last week, Johnson said, the district believed the incident was targeted at one student and left no other child in danger, which is why parents were not notified.
But Rockville Centre resident Katie Conlon, a mother of three, said she was sickened by the report, which was posted online by various news outlets, and suggested that the district could have alerted parents last week without sharing all the details of the incident. Her oldest child walks home from South Side Middle School each day, she added.
“As she was walking out the door this morning,” Conlon said at Monday’s meeting, “I’m trying to now scramble with her, reinforcing stranger danger.”
Board of Education President John O’Shea said the investigation was passed on to Nassau County police to have a sketch drawn of the alleged stalker. “. . . Somewhere [along] that line, the story of the incident changed,” O’Shea said, adding that he was confident that the information first released to the village was factual.
Johnson said the district would look to notify parents in the future when they should be reinforcing precautions with their children, even if an incident appears to be targeted and not a danger to the rest of the school community.
“They didn’t do it because they don’t like us,” Johnson said of the flood of calls from parents on Monday. “They did it because they love their children . . . There’s more we could have done, and we will in the future.”
NCPD detectives request that anyone with information contact Nassau County Crime Stoppers at (800) 244-TIPS, or Rockville Centre police, at (516) 766-1500. All callers will remain anonymous.