Utah third grader fights off attempted kidnapping, police search for suspect

Anyone with information is asked to call 801–481–7122.

(Granite School District) Pictured is the suspect in an alleged attempted kidnapping on Thursday, April 6, 2023, at Whittier Elementary School in West Valley City.

A third grade student fought off an attempted kidnapping outside her Utah elementary school Thursday, police say.

The 8-year-old girl, who attends Whittier Elementary in West Valley City, was attacked after school outside the building, according to a news release from Granite School District. The girl had already walked to her mother’s car, parked at the nearby Hunter Park pick-up and drop-off area, but went back to the school to look for an older sibling, district spokesperson Ben Horsley said at a Friday news conference.

Camera footage shows the suspect walked up to her at about 3:50 p.m. on a pathway outside the north side of the school.

“She is trying to kind of get around him, and she could tell something wasn’t right, and he’s talking to her for a brief moment, and then he reaches out to give her a hug and grabs her,” Horsley said, describing the man dragging the girl around a corner into an alcove that is 30 to 40 feet long.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Granite Police Chief Randy Porter listens as Granite Chief of Staff Ben Horsley discusses the attempted kidnapping that took place yesterday at Whittier Elementary school during a new conference, on Friday, April 7, 2023.

The school district said the girl pushed back and screamed. And she got free as a school employee, who was watching students as they crossed 6000 West, heard her cries and rushed over.

The suspect, according to police, ran toward 6000 West and turned north toward 3500 South. The student was not physically harmed. “Considering the nature of the attack, she is doing quite well,” Horsley said, adding police will interview the girl Friday.

The school district said Friday that it will staff additional officers — from its police department and West Valley City’s — around the school and other district facilities while it investigates. “We’re quite concerned considering the brazen nature of this attack, that this individual might seek to come to other locations,” Horsley said.

He added that police have received some leads about the man’s identity after sending a description to the school’s employees and parents, but Granite School District and West Valley City police are also asking for help in identifying the suspect.

According to a description released Friday, officers believe the suspect is a man in his late teens or early 20s. He is described as weighing 150 to 160 pounds and standing at 5′9″ to 5′11″. The attacker was wearing a black striped beanie, a blue and gray sweatshirt with the California state flag on it and gray sweatpants at the time of the attempted kidnapping, as seen in surveillance photos released by the school district. He also had a black backpack. Horsley said they man may be experiencing homelessness.

Granite School District Police Chief Randy Porter said Friday that the man could face charges of attempted kidnapping and assault. He asked neighbors to review any surveillance footage they may have, such as from doorbell cameras.

Anyone who recognizes the individual or has information on the case is asked to call the school district’s police department at 801–481–7122.

In a statement Friday, the district said: “Our hope is that with community input, we are able to identify this individual as quickly as possible.”

During Friday’s news conference, Horsley was at times emotional, having to stop to collect himself when his voice shook as he spoke from behind a wooden lectern in a conference room at the district’s headquarters in South Salt Lake.

“This is shaking me,” he said, ”because I’ve been here 14 years and I’ve never seen something like this, where somebody comes onto our property and attacks one of our students in such a fashion.”

He said he told his 9-year-old daughter Thursday night “if you’re ever uncomfortable, if somebody makes you to feel uncomfortable, no matter who they are, you scream and you fight for your life. And you don’t stop until you’re with somebody that you trust.”

Horsley said parents should regularly be having those conversations with their children and said the school district still teaches its students about “stranger danger.”

In the meantime, he said, the school district will evaluate its security and surveillance.