The surveillance video captures it all: A middle-school student sets out for her walk to school in west-suburban DeKalb. A man driving an SUV stops and calls her over. The girl suddenly backs away and runs back into her apartment, while the SUV is seen cruising around the block.
According to police, when the man in that SUV called the girl over, he told her he’d pay her money for sex. And after she ran away, police say, the man cruised on to approach another girl, just minutes later. Jorge Luis Gomez Gonzalez was eventually convicted of child-luring and indecent solicitation for both of those incidents.
His case is one of nearly 1,500 incidents of strangers attempting to lure or kidnap children in the Chicago area in the past five years.
In a two-month investigation, NBC Chicago requested police reports for these types of incidents from the 150 largest towns and suburbs in the Chicago area. By Wednesday, 85 police departments and municipalities had responded to Freedom of Information Act requests.
NBC5 Investigates filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the 150 largest towns and suburbs in the Chicago area, requesting all confirmed reports of stranger-related actual and attempted child-lurings and child-abductions from 2010 to the present. To date, about half of those towns have responded, and their confirmed incidents are listed and mapped here. Some other towns reported no such incidents; several others have yet to respond to NBC5’s FOIA request. For the City of Chicago, we were able to get details on some reported incidents, but not others, and that is noted for each such incident here. We will continue to update this map as we receive responses from additional municipalities.
To date, NBC Chicago has found case after case similar to that of the man who approached the girl in DeKalb. There are many cases where the perpetrators were even more aggressive.
In west-suburban Oak Park, a man followed a 16-year-old girl for several blocks in an incident her mother, Debra Harrington described as "brazen."
"He got close enough that her arm was touching him as they were walking," Harrington recalled.
The girl, whose name NBC Chicago is withholding due to her age, said the man started to grab her hand, and she got away by going into a school.
"It was frightening," the teen said.
It could have been worse. That same week, a 13-year-old girl was grabbed off the street and sexually assaulted just one mile away from Harrington’s home. Police arrested Shawn Stubblefield for that crime. He was charged with grabbing two other girls in the same area two days later.
Stubblefield pleaded not guilty to multiple charges in all three cases and and is currently in jail awaiting trial.
Nathan Hennsler's 16-year-old daughter was the victim in another case in Oak Park last year. He said her attacker grabbed her wrist and tried to pull her off the sidewalk. Like Harrington’s daughter, Hennsler’s daughter got away.
Police later charged a Glen Ellyn man, Damian Skoczylas, with felony child abduction and felony unlawful restraint in that case. As of Wednesday he'd not filed a plea.
But should Skoczylas ever be convicted of either of the charges filed against him, he will have to register on the Illinois Sex Offender Registry, the public website where many parents go to find out information about sex offenders who live in their towns and neighborhoods.
In the process of looking at these hundreds of accounts of child-luring and kidnapping attempts, NBC 5 Investigates discovered the sex-offender registry does not reveal the whole picture.
First, most lurers don’t get caught. Of the 1,500 cases obtained by NBC Chicago, only one in 10 resulted in an arrest. Second, even in those rare cases when someone is caught, the charges don’t always reflect the crime.
For example, the police record for Debra Harrington's daughter’s incident describes the crime as simply "disorderly conduct." A conviction on that charge would not require the offender to register as a sex offender.
That was also the case for Steven Dale Duncan. He was charged and eventually convicted of disorderly conduct in 2011 when police caught him trying to lure a girl into his truck in south-suburban Homewood.
That charge was despite the fact that the police report noted that Duncan had a handcuff attached to the passenger side of the door of his car and sex toys and bondage literature in his vehicle.
The distinction bothers Debra Harrington.
"[Authorities] said that he had to harm [my daughter] or attempt to harm her to be charged with anything else," she said. "That was very frightening to me."