By Jessica De Leon
The Bradenton Herald
MANATEE, Fla. — Detectives have arrested a suspect in the kidnapping and rape of a 5-year-old Bradenton girl with the help of a discarded lunch box.
Dominick Jerome Hawkins, 36, was arrested and charged with kidnapping and capital sexual battery Wednesday afternoon.
Hawkins was located just after 2:30 p.m. Wednesday by a Sarasota police detective, culminating in a manhunt led by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office with the help of the Sarasota Police Department and the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.
"I cannot tell you how happy we are to have this individual in custody," Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said. "This is something every parent has as a nightmare. We are very grateful."
The victim had been playing with another child around noon Monday in the Wayside Glen mobile home park, 5120 14th St. W., when she was lured to the India Bazaar store, 5112 14th St. W., to buy candy. Video surveillance from the store shows the suspect and victim together.
Detectives say Hawkins then took the victim to a vacant mobile home at the Aloha Estates Mobile Home Park, 5310 14th St. W., where he reportedly choked and raped her.
The girl later managed to escape as the shirtless suspect tried to board a Manatee County bus heading southbound, pounding on it and shouting, "I want to go to Sarasota." But he was not allowed on the bus.
The victim ran home, reporting the incident to family, and was treated at a local hospital. She was released back to her parents the same day.
A big break in the manhunt came from a caller, Steube said.
"Last night at about 6:41 p.m., we received a tip through our Crime Stoppers," Steube said. "We were told that the person used to live in Wayside Glen."
The tipster said the suspect had lived in unit No. 116, and detectives tracked Hawkins from there. A witness interviewed Tuesday informed detectives the suspect had been carrying a lunch box.
"We were able to locate that lunch box and it had a name in it," Steube said.
Detectives located the original lunch box owners, a Sarasota family who had recently thrown it away. The family reportedly lives near several homeless camps.
Knowing the suspect had tried to board a bus to Sarasota, sheriff's detectives met with Sarasota law enforcement officials Tuesday night.
"We gave them a name and a photo we had," Steube said.
Hawkins was spotted Wednesday afternoon by a Sarasota detective near the Resurrection House, 507 Kumquat Court, Sarasota.
After initial questioning, Hawkins was transported to the Sarasota Police Department where Manatee detectives continued the interview.
"Officers of the Sarasota Police Department have been working aggressively over the last several hours since yesterday afternoon to help identify and locate the suspect from yesterday in Manatee County," Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said Wednesday.
The Sarasota Police Department was happy to assist in the apprehension.
"When I saw this on television last night, being a mom, I was very concerned," DiPino said. "This is horrific. We worked really hard within our police department to help find this individual if he was in our jurisdiction."
Steube said Hawkins did not confess during the interviews at the Sarasota Police Department but did make some admissions.
"During the interview he did admit to us that he had taken a little girl to a candy store," Steube said. "He did admit that he had been the one trying to get on the bus."
Steube said Hawkins then invoked his Miranda rights and refused to answer any more questions, requesting an attorney.
Detectives say they had sufficient probable cause by then to make the arrest. Hawkins was booked into Sarasota County jail and later transported to the Manatee County jail, where he was being held without bond.
Hawkins' criminal history includes arrests in California, Colorado and North Carolina, according to detectives. The most recent arrest, on May 7, was on a domestic battery charge involving his wife, according to Manatee County court records.
The woman asked prosecutors not to pursue the case, and the State Attorney's Office concurred May 30, according to court records.
Tuesday — the day after the girl was kidnapped and raped — Hawkins was cited for illegal camping in Sarasota, court records confirm.
"Our detectives have slept very little since this occurred," Steube said. "Most of them have kids. We get this."
Wayside Glen mobile home park residents also felt relief to be able to let their children play outside again.
"We're very happy they found him," resident Misty Bell said. "The kids are back out. The adults are still supervising, though."
Bell, a 6-year resident, said she looks forward to a better night's sleep.
"I have not slept much the last couple nights," Bell said.
Elizabeth Barter, a 15-year resident, hopes parents learn the lesson of what can happen when children are unattended.
"When you see someone out of place, you need to pay attention," Barter said. "I think that is the lesson here."
Barter's children don't live with her in the park but she is often outside with her neighbors and helps watch over their children.
"Parents, when you become that trustworthy that everything will be OK, that's when something happens," Barter said. "I'm surprised it took this long."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 The Bradenton Herald