By Diana Marrero, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Miami-Dade police are searching for a man they say has raped at least eight women and girls since last Christmas.
His latest victims -- ages 7 and 8 -- were assaulted last week while they slept, detectives said.
Each time, he broke into his victim's home in the early morning. Each time, he shielded his face. Each time, he was armed with a gun or a knife.
All of the rapes occurred in the Liberty City area or other predominantly black neighborhoods in northwest Miami-Dade County.
Three months after Miami police caught another rape suspect after widespread publicity of rapes in largely Hispanic neighborhoods, black community leaders are starting to question why the latest cases have not received the same kind of attention.
"This sends a bad signal that we don't care about those people in that community," said Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler.
Community leaders charge that there is a lack of interest by police, public officials and the media in the rapes, leaving black churches to fill the void. Area ministers are warning parents to look after their children, raising money for a reward for the suspect's capture, and urging the community to cooperate with the police investigation.
The Rev. Jimmie Bryant, pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church in Liberty City, said churches are rallying points for the community.
"We always ask our people to be involved with the authorities ... and tell our people to be aware of what's around us," he said.
Detectives think the rapes were committed by a man in his 20s or 30s. DNA tests have linked the same man to five rapes. He is suspected in three other sexual assaults and an attempted attack.
But as the man quietly sneaked into people's homes through open windows or doors, public attention was focused on another serial rapist only miles away.
Miami police caught that suspect, Reynaldo Elias Rapalo, three months ago. He is charged with raping seven females between the ages of 11 and 79.
Although the intense publicity did not lead to Rapalo's capture, it did help people become more aware of their surroundings and resulted in hundreds of tips that could have helped authorities, said Ed Griffith, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle.
Police officials in Miami-Dade say they tried with little success to get the same type of media coverage the other cases were receiving at the time. Detectives think at least two other serial rapists have been striking different parts of Miami-Dade County, neither of which have garnered much public attention, said Joey Giordano, a spokesman for Miami-Dade police.
Still, experts say serial rape cases involving strangers receive much more public attention than rapes in which victims knew their attackers -- a scenario that is more common.
Although the number of reported rapes in Florida gradually have declined from the early 1990s to 6,704 last year, those statistics don't tell the full story of rape victims in the state.
"Most people are not raped by strangers," said Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, a nonprofit group that advocates for rape victims.
Dritt notes that victims are less likely to report a rape committed by someone they know.
"Serial rapists aren't only the guys who break into your home," she said. "You might have a college student who consistently rapes a date. He may get away with it far more often than you would think. Most rapists who do it once and aren't caught will do it again, regardless of their particular signature."
Information from The Associated Press was used to supplement this report.