PORT SALERNO — Moments after the 10-year old girl escaped from a man who had sexually assaulted her in the woods behind Manatee Creek Park, her mother was on the cellphone with 911 dispatchers, running to the park to find the man, according to a recording released Tuesday.
"My daughter just came home and said a man asked her to find his dog in the woods and then she went to help him and he pulled her pants down," the mother said.
In the 3 minute and 40 second recording, the mother could be heard walking to the park while talking to a dispatcher.
"I didn't ask her for details but I just grabbed the phone and ran," the mother said. "I didn't ask her for details because if he's up here ..."
About 4:30 p.m. Sunday, the 10-year-old girl and her two younger sisters, ages 3 and 5, were playing in a park in the Manatee Creek community near Cove Road and Dixie Highway.
After the girl followed the man, he sexually assaulted her for five minutes. She then began to struggle and the man stopped and ran away, officials said.
The suspect is described as a white man in his 20s, about 5 feet, 9 inches tall weighing about 150 pounds, with sandy blond hair styled in a buzz cut, wearing a blue- and white-striped shirt and a brace or cast on one hand.
He was last seen running northeast along the railroad tracks.
The dispatcher asked the mother to return to her home because a deputy would arrive at her home to interview the girl while several others would search the woods behind the park.
"That's why I let her walk across the street to the park because it's a neighborhood park," the mother said, explaining why she allowed her daughter to go to the park unsupervised.
The park on Southeast Primrose Way features a yellow-and-red jungle gym surrounded by sand, and a pavilion with a metal roof and two tables. A wood fence borders the facility, and a sign lists rules, including that a parent must accompany children younger than 12.
"A lot of kids come down here without parents even though it says with parents," said Fred Evernham, a 20 year resident for whom the park is named. "We're not cops, we have nobody that really watches."
He described the community, which consists of about 350 homes generally situated southwest of Cove Road and Dixie Highway as quiet, saying the homeowners association gets a report each month from the sheriff's office about incidents in the neighborhood. He showed a report indicating incidents from February.
"It's all minor stuff," Evernham said.
Meanwhile detectives on Tuesday worked with the girl and an adult who saw a man leaving the woods to complete a sketch of the suspect. It is unknown when the sketch would be released.
"She seems like she is a strong child," Sheriff William Snyder said Tuesday evening while giving a brief update on the case at a town hall meeting discussing "pillowcase" burglaries. "I think she is doing as well as could be expected."
Deputies continue to saturate the Port Salerno neighborhood, asking whether anyone knows the man. Also, they are interviewing inhabitants of homeless camps and known sex offenders who live in the area.
About 15 of the county's 152 registered sex offenders and predators live in a 1-mile radius around the park, according to the Sheriff's Office.
However, most of the sex offenders in the radius don't fit the description given to detectives, according to a review of registered sex offenders on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website.
Staff writer Will Greenlee contributed to this report