The entire attack was caught on a surveillance camera and lasted about 15 seconds.
“In my 10 years on the road I have never seen anything like this,” Sgt. Craig Callahan said. “He truly intended to abduct this child right in front of everyone in the store.”
The sheriff’s office says the attack began without warning, when the 30-year-old Bonello parked his shopping cart, slipped behind a shelf and lunged at the terrified teenager, who quickly fell to the ground. As Bonello dragged the panicked girl toward an exit by the arm, authorities say, her mother managed to grab her daughter, and a desperate tug-of-war took place.
The attacker didn’t give up, yanking on the teenager’s arm as he inched closer and closer to an exit.
The mother — whose name has not been released by authorities — eventually threw herself on top of her child to keep her from being abducted. What was not captured on the footage, police said, were the mother’s screams, which could be heard throughout the store.
Luckily for the victims, help just happened to be nearby.
“Bonello finally let go of the girl and ran out the front door of the Dollar General, just as off-duty Deputy Jonathan Behnen was getting out of his patrol car to enter the store,” the statement said, noting that the store manager yelled at the deputy that the man running away had just tried to kidnap a child. “Behnen jumped into action, pulling his patrol car in front of the suspect’s vehicle as he tried to exit the parking lot. He then ordered the man out of the car with his weapon in hand. After initially not complying, the man was taken into custody without further incident.”
In a statement released Wednesday, Dollar General thanked Behnen for his quick reaction.
“The safety of our employees and customers is a top priority,” the statement said. “We are grateful that the victim and mother were not injured during this incident. We are also thankful for the actions of Deputy Jonathan Behnen, who was nearby when this occurred and reacted quickly to arrest the suspect.”
At a news conference Wednesday, Behnen said he went to the Dollar General to pick up cleaning supplies because he “had some very explicit instructions to clean the house from my wife,” according to NBC News.
As he pulled into the parking lot, Behnen said he saw an altercation in the store and assumed it was a shoplifter, NBC News reported.
“Next thing I know, the suspect comes running out the front door,” Behnen said. “The store manager, who is known to me … started yelling at me, ‘John, he just tried to kidnap a girl.’ ”
“His demeanor was off,” he added. “I knew something was going on. When he said kidnapping, I was in a little bit of shock there because it’s broad daylight.”
Bonello had reached his car and was about to drive away by the time Behnen reached him with his weapon drawn. Seconds after the incident began, it was over.
“I escorted him out of the vehicle, I put handcuffs on him, and I just waited for backup to arrive,” Benhen said.
Police said the mother and her daughter are both “very rattled” but escaped without injury.
Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy credits the mother Wednesday for acting assertively.
“I thought the mom was stellar in this case,” he told NBC News. “Mom was on it. He was getting his butt kicked by mom. That was one of the refreshing things you saw in that video.”
Had Bonello escaped, Dawsy said, the situation could’ve escalated.
“The real concern is, what would he have done for the rest of the day?”
Bonello, 30, of Inverness, Fla., faces charges of child abuse and kidnapping, and is being held without bond, according to police. Police said he has several previous arrests, the most recent in February on charges of trespassing. His previous charges have all been misdemeanors, except for a count of aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer in 2009.
Bonello’s uncle, Tony Bonello, told NBC News that he no longer recognizes his nephew, and urged him to seek help.
“It’s just sad that this has happened, because this is not the kid that grew up with my kids,” Bonello, who lives in Vermont, told NBC. “He needs to talk to some psychiatrists and find out what the issue is.”
Police said Bonello’s intentions during the latest incident remain unknown. Authorities said Bonello is not listed as a sex offender or predator.
“This was a chaotic scene with a lot at stake,” said Cmdr. Buddy Grant. “This is obviously someone who needs to be behind bars. He won’t be getting out anytime soon to do this again.”