In early 2004, Susan, who doesn’t want to reveal her actual name in order to protect her daughters, first met a man she knew as “Joe.”
“Joe’s” real name is Giuseppe Ressa. In 2004 he was 23 years old and worked for the Ryall YMCA in west suburban Glen Ellyn, as a before- and after-school counselor at a local elementary school. That’s where he came into contact with Susan’s two daughters, then ages 7 and 10.
In the report she would later file with police, Susan said she had an uneasy feeling about Ressa the very first time she met him. Then, she says, “[a] friend told me, ‘you know Joe comes over to the grammar school during the day, and he’s watching the girls.’”
Susan says Ressa would also call her at home, asking to babysit. Susan’s daughters complained that Ressa called each of them “princess” and wouldn’t leave them alone.
But by April 2004 Susan heard that Ressa had been fired by the YMCA, so she figured the matter was done.
Then, in June 2004, according to the police report, Ressa started calling Susan again, asking repeatedly about the girls and whether he could sit for them or come to their sporting events.
On Aug. 13, 2004, Susan received a letter from Ressa. “He’s saying he’s almost this ‘messenger of God;’” she told NBC5 Investigates, “that my youngest daughter’s an angel, and she should be in heaven.”
So she filed a report with Glen Ellyn police. And it turns out they had heard about Ressa before.
In the 2004 report, one Glen Ellyn officer wrote, “I have dealt with Ressa on prior occasions and told him that his actions with young children was upsetting the children and parents.” The report says police in nearby Carol Stream had received complaints as well.
NBC 5 Investigates found that at least eight people, in addition to Susan, reported to police, a decade ago, that Ressa was acting inappropriately around young children.According to police documents, one man told Ressa to stay away from his daughter, two co-workers told police that “people had told them that Ressa made their kids feel uncomfortable,” and a local school banned him from its premises.
But while police were investigating these reports, Ressa was getting a new job – at a Kindercare in Bensenville.
He had just finished working there when police finally arrested him in September 2004.
But even then, Ressa was only charged with – and convicted of – two counts of misdemeanor disorderly conduct in his actions towards Susan’s girls.
That conviction did not require Ressa to register as a sex offender. And it would raise no red flags to any future employer or parent – 11 years later -- that Ressa might still be a serious danger around children in the western suburbs.
NBC 5 Investigates has found that a startling number of Chicago-area men who’ve been convicted after incidents where they attempted to kidnap or lure children, are charged or convicted on a “catch-all” charge like disorderly conduct or battery, which, in essence, keep hidden the fact that their crime involved sex and children.
In DuPage County, for example, out of more than 1,500 reports of strangers luring children tracked by NBC 5 Investigates over a five-year period, 90 occurred in DuPage. But only 11 of those 90 incidents resulted in an arrest, and seven of those men were charged or convicted with a more anodyne crime, such as disorderly conduct, that keeps them off the state’s sex offender registry – just like Ressa.
Take Mario Booker: Police say he grabbed a 16-year-old girl and tried to force her into his car by knifepoint in west-suburban Bensenville in 2013. He was eventually found guilty of aggravated battery in a public place, not considered a sex offense.
Or Steven Andy Wu: Naperville police arrested him in 2012 for following four 14-year-old girls and masturbating in front of them. He was convicted on a single misdemeanor count of public indecency, not considered a sex offense.
So if a potential employer were to run the names of Booker, Wu or Ressa through the Illinois Sex Offender Registry, as part of a standard background check, none of them would appear.
The Woodridge Park District conducted just that type of background check in 2012, when Ressa showed up and filled out an application to work there. His background came up clean, so the district hired Ressa for seasonal work, as an attendant at an aquatic center, and as an after-school counselor at an elementary school.
His disorderly conduct conviction involving Susan’s girls raised no red flags, and Ressa continued to work with the Woodridge Park District, off and on, until June of this year.
That’s when police in west suburban Lisle arrested Ressa, now 34, when they say they saw him lure two children -- a brother and sister, ages five and seven -- into an apartment complex in west-suburban Addison. They had been following him because of another report days earlier, and they say he was also suspected in a case involving a West Chicago child a few months earlier.
Ressa is now in DuPage County Jail, charged with 12 counts of child abduction, kidnapping, and aggravated child sexual abuse. He has pled not guilty to all charges.
When police searched his home, they say they found he’d taken notes on local children. DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin says Ressa had also been researching several high-profile cases from across the country – all involving children who had been abducted, raped, and murdered.
What’s more, says Berlin, “Ressa also had a ‘playbook’ of how to groom children, so that he would be able to sexually abuse them.”
But none of that was found until his arrest this year. Before then, the only public indication of Ressa’s history was his 2004 conviction for disorderly conduct.
“That is rather an innocuous charge,” says Deputy Chief Ron Wilke of the Lisle Police Department. “There’s no caveat there that say it involved children – or anything that might make a potential employer worried.”
That’s why Wilke says he’d like to see a charge that would signal when disorderly conduct or battery involves children – especially relating to sex. “From a police perspective, it would help us let everyone else know,” says Wilke. “I think that would help us out immensely.”
State’s Attorney Berlin would like to take it a step further, and give judges the discretion to order someone to register as a sex offender -- no matter the charge -- if the judge determines that the person should be flagged. “There is research that shows [the registry] does reduce the numbers of sexual crimes against children,” Berlin says. “And that’s a win-win for the public.”
However, both measures – giving judges discretion and “flagging” convictions that are child-sex-related – require a change in Illinois law. Berlin hopes to introduce legislation concerning the registry, early next year.
Susan and her children now live in another state. And while Giuseppe Ressa’s disorderly conduct conviction raised no red flags to others for more than a decade, it never leaves Susan.
“To this day I carry that letter in our briefcase,” Susan says, “because I never want to forget that that could have happened to my daughter.”