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School Connection Examined in Miami-Dade Rapes

While they investigate if a serial rapist selected his victims from area schools, Miami-Dade detectives are following a flood of tips.

The rapist plaguing North Miami-Dade may have targeted some of his youngest victims because they are pupils at a neighborhood elementary school.

Among the leads the police are pursuing: that the rapist may have worked at or visited the schools the girls attend.

Five attacks have been linked by DNA to the rapist -- and another 10 crimes fit the rapist's profile and method of operation. His victims or possible victims have all been black females: four in their 20s or 30s, six teenagers and five girls age 10 or younger. His most recent victims, ages 7 and 8, were raped Nov. 28.

On Wednesday, sexual crimes detectives were at the school where two of the young victims attend, "reinterviewing people" with a new purpose.

"It's one of the many things we're checking out. It's one of the first patterns we've seen, but it's only a theory," said Detective Robert Garland, the lead investigator in the case. Police declined to identify the school.

Today, the detectives will canvass other elementary schools from Liberty City to Carol City for leads to the rapist.

Garland would not elaborate on other possible links between the schools the victims attend and the rapist.

Pete Cuccaro, chief of the School Police Department, said his staff is ready to help Miami-Dade detectives.

"They'll be directed to our investigative branch, and we'll do everything we can to facilitate their work," Cuccaro said.

John Schuster, a school district spokesman, said all schools in the area will warn students about the rapist.

"Our principals have always had an excellent record of notifying students and parents in other similar situations, for example, the case in Shenandoah," Schuster said.

The Shenandoah rapist also targeted school-age girls, prompting principals to send home fliers alerting parents in August. Children were also taught in school to be extra cautious. During the height of the search for that rapist, few children played outside. Reynaldo Elias Rapalo has confessed to seven Shenandoah rapes, police have said.

"With little kids, you do things a little different," Schuster said. ``You have to go over the safety rules again: don't walk alone, pay attention, lock doors."

Meanwhile, police said an initiative begun Tuesday to conduct door-to-door canvassing in the neighborhood where the rapist has struck -- coupled with a mass mailing of 54,000 fliers to homes in those ZIP Codes -- has generated hundreds of calls to Crime Stoppers (305-471-8477).

"The phones have been jumping off the hook," Garland said. ``We are loaded down with tips. Most have been informational types, like someone saw a suspicious white van, things like that. We're hoping some good will develop from them."

Wednesday night, detectives were out knocking on doors again. Police have said catching the rapist is a No. 1 priority.

The rapist may have begun his attacks in November 2002, performing a lewd act with a 12-year-old girl. Police think the same man may be behind 15 crimes, including burglary, attempted assault, rape and lewd acts.

The seriousness of his crimes, police note, may be escalating. In October, after attacking a 10-year-old girl in her home, he attempted to break in the following day to rape her a second time.

The rapist strikes in the early morning hours, usually when his victims are asleep. He breaks in through a window and uses a variety of weapons -- from his bare hands to a gun or knife.

He covers his face with a scarf or mask.

Only one woman out of his 15 possible victims -- a 20-year-old woman raped in June at gunpoint -- has seen his face. The victim's description of the man provided police with the information for the sketch being circulated.

An FBI profile done on the rapist is also serving as a guide for detectives.

"He gives a sense that he lives or has family or works in the area, maybe a 9-to-5 job," Garland said.

The rapist never takes money or valuables, an indication, Garland said, that he's not a drifter or drug user. ``He never takes money or anything to pawn. He has the opportunity, but he doesn't."

The rapist speaks with no noticeable accent and doesn't use street slang, Garland said. ``He's well-spoken and says just enough to his victims."

Unlike the Shenandoah serial rape suspect captured in September, the North Miami-Dade rapist is working a wide area. Victims are targeted between Northwest 62nd and 191st streets and between Northwest Second and 37th avenues.

"His comfort zone is very big," Garland said. ``I call him the needle in a haystack and the haystack is pretty big."

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