What to Know
The 12-year-old girl, clutching her princess lunch box and wearing her school uniform, was attacked on Feb. 24, 2015 as she got off bus
The stranger threatened to kill her, then dragged her roughly, turning down an alley where he brutally attacked her, police say
Despite DNA evidence and surveillance footage of the attack, no arrests have been made; one detective remains haunted
The rapist who grabbed a 12-year-old girl off a New York City street in broad daylight and raped her three years ago will strike again if he's not caught, an NYPD detective working on the case says.
Det. Diane Crowley has been investigating the brutal rape since it happened Feb. 24, 2015, unpacking the chilling clues and chasing down every lead. The victim was a sixth-grader in pigtails, wearing a school uniform and a bookbag shaped like a dinosaur, clutching a princess lunchbox.
"She was a baby and she looked like a baby," she told News 4 in an exclusive television interview Friday.
"This could be anyone's kid. And he's still out there," she said of the predator. "I have full confidence that he's gonna hit again."
The girl didn't live in the neighborhood where she was raped. She'd stepped off the Bx19 bus to transfer to another bus after school, heading home around dinnertime after tutoring. That's when the rapist grabbed her by the arm and threatened to kill her if she screamed.
He dragged the terrified sixth grader through the strange neighborhood and took her into an alley where he brutally attacked her.
"She doesn't want to die. She told me she was afraid he was going to kill her," said Crowley.
The rapist had tried to get into two locked buildings on 179th Street, and ultimately ended up in an alley on Daly Street. The girl later told Crowley she remembered a "grass wall."
After searching hundreds of alleys, the Special Victims Unit found the grass wall, and the girl confirmed at the scene that was where she was attacked.
"As soon as she walked through here, 'That's it! Detective Crowley, this is it. This is it,'" Crowley recalled. The girl was talking about a turf-covered fence at the end of a sunken alley hidden from the street.
A surveillance camera and video captured the attack -- disturbing even for a veteran detective.
"Having to see it, of course it gets you, it's your fuel," said Crowley. "It's what makes you want to throw handcuffs on the person that did this."
The footage shows a young man in tan cargo pants, wearing a blue jacket with a hood and a hat. His face is blurry, but it's not impossible to recognize. Part of the problem, Crowley has told The Associated Press, is the suspect was also young, probably 14 to 16 years old. She thinks people are afraid of being wrong and turning in an innocent kid.
"Obviously with the forensic evidence, there's no way the wrong kid will go to jail for this," she told the AP.
After the attack, the girl ran and called her mother and they went to the hospital, which collected forensic evidence. Crowley told the AP that when she arrived to the hospital, the little girl was in a bed, still in her uniform, but it was ripped and dirty. Her glasses were askew.
She had a hard time explaining the attack to police.
"She had to describe things that happened to her that she didn't even have the vocabulary for," Crowley said. "She'd never seen a male body before."
SVU is not working the cold case alone. The rape has haunted the Bronx neighborhood where it happened for years, and neighbors are eager to find the attacker.
"They need to find him, and he needs to pay for what he did," said East Tremont resident Ninoska Veras. "Little kids should not go through situations like that."
"For a little girl to get raped, I'm not going to tolerate that," said Richie Pearson. "All rapists need to come off the street."
Crowley says the girl is more concerned than anything about future potential victims.
"Not, 'I want him to rot in jail.' Not, you know, 'He deserves something bad to happen,'" she said. "'I don't want anyone else to have to go through what I went through.'"
Police have been back in the neighborhood, on the three-year anniversary of the case, talking to people on the street and handing out fliers, urging them to contact investigators with tips, no matter how small.
"Even if they think it's insignificant, we may be able to run with it and it may provide a huge break for us," said Crowley.
Crowley said the girl has had ups and downs. She's anxious and can't sleep, struggles in school, but she's growing into a smart young woman and is doing her best.
"But, her innocence was taken. The twinkle in her eye dimmed out," she said. "I would love nothing more than to bring her and her family justice."
Anyone with any information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS or nypdcrimestoppers.com. There's a reward of more than $22,000 for any tips leading to an arrest.