D.C. police officers investigating sexual assaults on two young girls at Bancroft Elementary School in Northwest Washington said last night they had targeted four "possible suspects" in those attacks and in two other incidents they believe are related.
All the suspects have criminal records and live in the neighborhood near the school at 18th and Newton streets NW, police said. They said the suspects match the same general description given to investigators by the girls, three aged 5 and one aged 9.
"Investigators have developed four names," one police official said. "Whether one of them is the attacker we're looking for is uncertain. We've got our fingers crossed."
Reports earlier this week indicated that three 5-year-old Bancroft pupils had been sexually assaulted in or near the school over the past three weeks. But authorities said yesterday that a girl thought to have been fondled in a wooded area behind the school Oct. 2 apparently was not. Officials described that incident yesterday as a kidnaping with "sexual overtones."
The first assault took place about 2 p.m. Sept. 18 when a 5-year-old girl was fondled sexually by man in a Bancroft restroom; the most recent occurred about 6:30 p.m. Monday when another 5-year-old girl playing near Bancroft was taken behind the school by a man who forced her to submit to sodomy.
In addition, last June, a man struck and knocked to the ground a 9-year-old girl who resisted his attempts to take her to the woods behind the school.
Meanwhile, last night Bancroft principal Kenneth Milner apologized to a gathering of about 300 parents for not making the attacks public until this week.
Milner, who had been under fire from parents and some school board members for withholding the information, told the audience that he did not immediately disclose the Sept. 18 attack because he wanted "to act in the best interest of the police and the community" in helping investigators make an arrest.
"You were not informed of the incidents. I am responsible for that. I'm sorry and I accept whatever consequences there may be," Milner said.
After the meeting, Milner added, "I really thought we were going to catch the suspect hanging around outside the building. Police undercover officers were in and out of the school . . . and I didn't think there was any way for him to get back into the building."
Milner said that after the Sept. 18 assault, he instituted several security measures and was advised by police and "my superiors" not to announce to parents what had happened.
"There must have been some miscommunication involved. . . . I talked to about 10 different officers" working on the cases, so maybe there was misunderstanding, Milner said. "I am ultimately responsible for the children at Bancroft. I felt hurt after the incidents occurred because I feel as if every child here is my own. My staff and I do whatever I can to protect them."
The parents applauded loudly after Police Deputy Chief James Shugart praised Milner as "a man who is not afraid to stand up and say the things he said tonight."
However, PTA vice president Barbara Price criticized the parents for "waiting until crime hit close to home before getting involved. We have begged, just about for volunteers."
She said letters "went out at the beginning of the year to 750 of you and only five volunteered for all the activities we have here, including security patrols. We need your help to help your children."
The meeting also was attended by Helen Lynch, Bancroft PTA president, Edna Frazier-Cromwell, member of the D.C. Board of Education (D-Ward 1), Andrew Jenkins, deputy superintendent of schools and Frank Smith, City Council member (D-Ward 1), who promised to "look into the idea of putting up a new fence" around the school.