Child grabbed by man: ‘I hit him and I was screaming at him’
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An eight-year-old girl who was grabbed by a balaclava-clad stranger as she walked her service dog on a quiet Winnipeg street is suffering nightmares and flashbacks.
The girl told the Free Press she was frightened, but fought back when the man approached and took hold of her right wrist on a Meadowlark Place sidewalk, in the Booth neighbourhood, just north of Grace Hospital, shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday.
“I was very scared. (The dog) was scared,” the girl said at her family’s home Wednesday. “I was feeling panicked. I wasn’t ready for that.”
She said the man kicked her dog — an 18-month-old Coton de Tuléar — when the protective animal tried to bite him, as he refused to let go.
Her 47-year-old mother, who agreed to speak and allow her daughter to answer some questions on the condition of anonymity, worries the assault could have a long-term impact on the child.
“I hope it won’t turn out as PTSD. We don’t want it to stop her progress,” she said, noting she doesn’t know if the man was attempting to abduct her daughter.
The girl, who has high-functioning autism, recently started taking the dog on short solo walks, as part of a health-care plan to strengthen their bond and build confidence and independence, her mother said.
“We will suspend (the solo walks) for a little while,” said the woman, who is reluctant to let her daughter out of her sight following the incident. “She is having nightmares and some flashbacks. I think her autism protected her from the big burst of emotion about it.”
The girl and the dog were walking south on Meadowlark when the man walked up to her and grabbed her; the Winnipeg police child investigations unit is looking for a suspect.
“I said, ‘Stop,’ and he said, ‘No,’” the girl said.
“She said she punched the man. ‘I hit him and I was screaming at him.’”
The man maintained his grip on her wrist, began pulling her toward the street and kicked the dog in the body when it attempted to bite him.
The girl screamed loudly and punched the man, allowing her to free herself.
Her mother, who was nearby, came to her aid after hearing the scream and the dog barking.
“I was sure it was her. When I found her, I said, ‘Are you OK?’ And she said, ‘No,’” the woman said. “She said she punched the man. ‘I hit him and I was screaming at him.’”
Police said the suspect fled south on Meadowlark toward Grace Hospital. The mother said he was gone by the time she reached her daughter.
She took the girl home and called police.
“The dog reacted the way we wanted: to protect (the girl) and calm her down afterward.”
The child had some marks on her wrist and a sore left ankle, but did not require medical attention. The dog is doing fine, the mother added.
“The dog reacted the way we wanted: to protect (the girl) and calm her down afterward,” she said.
During the interview, the dog licked the girl’s face and lapped up the attention while being cradled and cuddled on a sofa.
The girl’s parents are going to seek mental health support to help her process what happened.
They are proud of the way she yelled and fought back, and thankful she managed to break free from the man’s grip.
The mother said she and her husband had previously talked to their daughter about personal safety.
“I’m glad my daughter doesn’t read social media because some of the comments were not very friendly.”
However, after writing a Facebook post to warn other parents and share the suspect’s description, the mother was taken aback and hurt by negative comments written by strangers.
“I’m glad my daughter doesn’t read social media because some of the comments were not very friendly, commenting about the service dog, the disability and the fact my daughter with a disability was walking alone in the street,” she said. “People are very judgmental; I was (close by).
“We work with help from (health-care agencies) to help her to be functional and regulated. Taking a walk with the dog is part of the process. Every summer, we have a plan. This summer, it was independence.”
As the search for the suspect continues, the mother is urging people in the area with home security or vehicle dashboard cameras to check their footage.
Police said the man has tan/olive skin with under-eye discoloration described as purple. He is about six-feet tall and has an average build.
The man was wearing black pants with white stripes down the sides, black shoes with white/grey soles, and a black jacket with grey and white on the sleeves.
He had a black balaclava with a black mask covering his mouth area. The mask formed a triangle at the bottom below the chin.
“We are referring to this incident as an assault, not an attempt abduction,” a police spokeswoman wrote in an email. “We have not been made aware of any other incidents of this nature in the area. No arrests have been made.”
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.