Cops Hunt Knife-Wielding Suspect in NJ Teen Sex Assaults

Police say 42-year-old Rafael Velez was the attacker in both Market Street sex assaults

By Brynn Gingras
|  Thursday, Oct 4, 2012  |  Updated 7:26 PM EDT
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Police in Paterson, N.J. say two recent sexual assaults have been linked to a suspect, and are investigating whether he may be behind a third assault. Gus Rosendale has more.

Gus Rosendale

Police in Paterson, N.J. say two recent sexual assaults have been linked to a suspect, and are investigating whether he may be behind a third assault. Gus Rosendale has more.

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UPDATE: Paterson Sexual Assault Predator Caught by U.S. Marshals

Police in New Jersey are searching for a hardened criminal who has already been linked to two knifepoint sexual assaults on teenage girls in Paterson and may be connected to a third incident.

Authorities say 42-year-old Rafael Velez has been on the run since they tried to corner him in a textile factory where he works on Market Street and later surrounded his home as they sought to question him in the cases.

Police said a 19-year-old victim came forward this week and told them an attacker forced her into a building on the 100 block of Market Street at knifepoint around 6 p.m. Monday and sexually assaulted her. She told police the suspect threatened to kill her family if she called authorities. 

Several hours later, an 18-year-old woman in the area of McBride Avenue by the Great Falls reported being forced to a secluded area at knifepoint.
 
While investigating both incidents, police connected the Monday assault at Market Street to another one in the same building, which happened around the same time of day on Sept. 14. In that case, an 18-year-old was sexually assaulted, police said.
 
Police are investigating whether Velez may be connected to another assault  on McBride Avenue. They say he is a charismatic man who allegedly lures teenage girls with a "very calm and sincere demeanor" and, once they become disinterested, he becomes violent and threatens their families. 

Velez served 15 years in prison on charges including sexual assault, robbery, kidnapping, weapons possession and making terrorist threats, according to Department of Corrections records. He was released in January 2012.

"He's done it before, he'll do it again," said Paterson Lt. Rich Reyes. "We are actively searching for him."

Reyes said police also wanted to urge other potential victims to come forward. He said some may be hesitant because the suspect threatened their families, but assured potential victims police would assist them in every way. 

 
Anyone with information on Velez's whereabouts is asked to contact Paterson Police at 973-321-1120. 

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