ATLANTA — Authorities are on an intense search for an armed suspect who they said tried to grab a child from the playground during the school day. Atlanta Police believes a lapse in critical communication between police departments may have bought the suspect more time to get away, but school officials dispute that.
The reported attack happened around 1:40 p.m. Oct. 7 at Deerwood Academy on Fairburn Road, according to police.
In a statement from Atlanta Public Schools, the district confirmed that a student reported an armed man tried to abduct her from the playground during school hours, Monday.
The district said students were immediately evacuated from the playground, and the entire school was placed on lockdown until APS Police could "assess the situation." The district added that the student was examined and cleared by the school nurse.
While the investigation into the attack is being handled by the Atlanta Public Schools Police Department - as it happened on school property - the Atlanta Police Department expressed disappointment that it was not notified of the "incredibly disturbing" situation for nearly four hours.
"The incident took place at 1:40 p.m. and we were notified shortly before 6 p.m. We believe there were numerous measures that should have been taken during that time period to protect children in the area from further incidents and to immediately launch a search for the suspect," said Atlanta Police spokesperson Carlos Campos.
However, Atlanta Public Schools officials disputed that timeline.
"Based on a detailed timeline developed as part of this investigation, APSPD became aware of this incident at 1:36 p.m. that day, immediately dispatched officers to the scene, began the investigation and notified the Atlanta Police Department dispatch at 1:46 p.m., not four to six hours later as has been erroneously reported," APS spokesperson Ian Smith said in an email on Thursday. (Editor's note: Full statements are at the bottom of this story)
Campos said as soon as APD learned about the situation, the department "quickly developed an action plan" that included stepping up patrols in the area and reallocating resources to search for the suspect.
Investigators are also trying to determine if Monday's attack is related to another disturbing situation that happened almost a full week before on Oct. 2.
In that incident, Atlanta Police said a naked man wearing a Power Rangers mask entered an apartment on Fairburn Road and committed a "lewd act" in front of a 14-year-old girl as she got dressed for school.
The girl's mother said she was in a rush to get her 3-year-old to school and head to work and accidentally left the door unlocked. The girl saw the naked man behind her in the mirror, punched the man in the face and chased him out, throwing a kitchen knife at him, but the suspect got away.
Neither police department has drawn a direct connection between the two, but Atlanta Police noted that they happened little more than a mile apart.
Meanwhile, police still don't have a suspect yet in Monday's playground attack, but an Atlanta Public Schools police report describes him as a "tall male who appeared to be biracial (Black/Hispanic). Purple shirt (torn) Black Jeans, Black backpack, bad odor."
APS spokesperson Ian Smith (sent at noon on Thursday)
The Atlanta Public Schools Police Department (APSPD) is continuing its investigation into an allegation made by a student that a man with a gun attempted to abduct the student from the playground at Deerwood Academy on Monday, October 7. Based on a detailed timeline developed as part of this investigation, APSPD became aware of this incident at 1:36 p.m. that day, immediately dispatched officers to the scene, began the investigation and notified the Atlanta Police Department dispatch at 1:46 p.m., not four to six hours later as has been erroneously reported. In addition, Atlanta Public Schools has protocols in place to ensure that all students are supervised and accounted for at all times, which was the case when this incident allegedly happened. While there is no fence around the play area, we strategically place school personnel to monitor the students and watch for anyone coming onto the property. As this investigation continues, we want to assure the community that we take this incident very seriously and that the safety and security of our students and staff remains our top priority. – Ian Smith, APS Spokesperson
Atlanta Police Department spokesperson Carlos Campos responded that statement on Thursday afternoon, saying:
The idea that the Atlanta Public Schools Police Department believes that a single phone call placed to a dispatch desk suffices as “notice” of a serious assault against a child is laughable at best, or poor police work, at worst. Reaching out to the local zone commander more than four hours after the incident was grossly inadequate for us to mobilize our resources for immediate assistance. We suggest strongly they take a hard look at their protocols when it concerns child safety.
Campos' original statement (sent at 1:19 p.m. on Tuesday):
This is an incredibly disturbing incident and once we learned about it, the department immediately begin mobilizing resources to assist Atlanta Public Schools Police. We are disappointed, however, to have been notified about the incident late Monday by APS more than four hours after it took place. The incident took place at 1:40 p.m. and we were notified shortly before 6 p.m. We believe there were numerous measures that should have been taken during that time period to protect children in the area from further incidents and to immediately launch a search for the suspect. Regardless, we quickly developed an action plan once notified and have stepped up patrols in the area and assigned some discretionary units to aid in the search for this dangerous suspect. We also have investigators looking at the possibility that Monday’s incident is related to an incident on October 2 when a naked man wearing a Power Rangers mask entered an apartment on Fairburn Road and committed a lewd act in the presence of a 14-year-old girl. A connection has not been made, but the incidents were a little more than a mile apart.