When Debra Hendricks' 14-year-old daughter wants to take a walk, the two coordinate a route through their Liberty Park neighborhood and set a time for the girl to be home.
"I give her my watch, and you can bet I'm counting the minutes," said Hendricks, whose daughter was nearly abducted by a man in West Valley City in February 1997. The attacker forced Hendricks' daughter into his car and tried to strangle her, leaving fingerprint bruises on the young girls' neck."This experience alone has made me cautious about the future," Hendricks said.
West Valley police are re-releasing the description of the suspect - a man the victim has positively identified on a convenience store video tape but who has never been caught by police.
Public response and involvement from more recent abduction and rape cases across the Salt Lake Valley have police hoping that stirring up the case now will help put the attacker behind bars, West Valley Police Lt. Charles Illsley said.
"We were so impressed by the public's reaction we thought we'd take a look at some of our unsolved cases and give it another shot," Illsley said. "We're particularly hopeful about this case because the girl has made a positive I.D."
The attacker is described as a male in his 30s or 40s, with blond curly hair, a mustache and brown eyes. When he tried to take the girl, he was wearing a white shell necklace and a silver hoop earring in one ear. He was driving a blue four-door Chevrolet sedan.
The abduction attempt took place Feb. 27, 1997, at 7:35 p.m. Hendricks, who was living in West Valley City at the time, sent her daughter on an errand to a 7-Eleven store, 2728 W. 3100 South, to get some milk. When the girl didn't return promptly, Hendricks took note but didn't worry.
Then the phone rang.
"When they said it was the police and they said abduction, I assumed the worst. I thought she was gone," Hendricks said.
The man and the girl had exchanged eye contact as the girl entered the store, police said. He was sitting in his car, parked in front of the store. When she emerged from the store, the man had moved the car near a Dumpster and appeared to be cleaning the car out. But when the girl moved past him, he grabbed her from behind and put his hand over her mouth. He told her if she didn't fight him and just did what he wanted, he wouldn't hurt her, Hendricks said.
"She didn't listen to him. She fought him as hard as she could," Hendricks said. "Ironically, there was a witness to the whole thing, but no one came to help."
The man managed to get the girl into the back seat of his car. She kept screaming. He put his hands around her neck and tried to strangle her. Hendricks said that's when her daughter quieted down, realizing her life was at risk.
"She really kept her head about her," Hendricks said.
The man let go of the girl and got out of the car to move around to the driver's side of the car. As he did so, Hendricks' daughter leaned forward, unlocked the door and made her escape. She ran into a Holiday Oil gas station, screaming and crying. A clerk in the store called police, Hendricks said.
One year later, there are still nights when the girl cuddles up next to her mother in bed, afraid to sleep alone.
"She's had some counseling, but she does have difficulty talking about it. She went through a time when she thought she saw the guy on every corner. For a while, she would come home from school and put on an old robe of mine. She wouldn't take it off," Hendricks said. "It made her feel safe, because it was mom's."
The hard part for Hendricks has been watching her daughter's struggle, knowing the young girl must heal on her own. The fact that the man who tried to take her little girl is still on the street hasn't helped.
"It's been frustrating. I don't think it's through neglect on West Valley's part. There was a time when we felt very alone, but I have faith, and I'm very encouraged by recent cases. I feel strongly that the public will help," she said. "If he's out here, he can be found. I'm not going to let go. If it takes years, I'm going to get this guy. I don't want somebody else's little girl to go through what my daughter did."
Anyone who recognizes the description of the suspect or who may have information about the case should contact West Valley police at 963-3536 or 265-4056.