Miami suspect had help escaping, police say


The Associated Press

By CURT ANDERSON
 
MIAMI - A serial rape suspect who escaped from jail by climbing through a ceiling vent and rappelling down the side of the building on tied-together bed sheets appeared to have outside help and used tools that had been smuggled in, the city's police chief said Thursday.

"This is a conspiracy. This was hatched over about three months," Chief John Timoney said.

Reynaldo E. Rapalo, 34, and another inmate broke out of a Miami-Dade County jail Tuesday night by crawling through a vent in the ceiling of a sixth-floor cell, officials said. The vent was supposed to be locked, but its door had been pried off. And bars blocking the vent's opening to the roof were cut.

"He used certain tools you can't purchase from the prison commissary," Timoney said. He would not further describe the tools. There were also indications that someone was planning to meet Rapalo after he escaped, Timoney said. He would not elaborate.

Investigators will scrutinize any visitors Rapalo had, the police chief said.

Rapalo is accused of sexually assaulting seven girls and women in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood in 2002 and 2003. He had been awaiting trial in February, and could get life in prison if convicted.

The other inmate, who was also charged with sexual assault, was captured after he broke his legs when he jumped.

Officers searched neighborhoods, airports, train stations and ports for Rapalo, a native of Honduras, and guards were assigned to victims living in the area.

Residents said they were concerned and angry that Rapalo was on the loose again. He was the target of a major manhunt after attacks on girls and women ages 11 to 79. He was arrested in 2003.

Miami-Dade Police Director Robert Parker said Wednesday "there will be no stone unturned" in pursuit of Rapalo. Parker said Honduran officials pledged to help capture Rapalo if he returns there.

Associated Press writer Jessica Gresko contributed to this story.

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