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Arrest made in abduction, sexual assault of 4-year-old girl

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) — A Delaware man kidnapped and sexually assaulted a 4-year-old girl before throwing her into a pond, authorities said Monday in announcing the suspect’s arrest.

Daniel M. Santucci Jr., 23, of Wilmington was arrested Friday and is charged with attempted murder, kidnapping and unlawful sexual contact with a child under age 13.

He was being held in custody in lieu of more than $1 million cash bail pending a hearing Friday.

“It is my hope that our residents can breathe a sigh of relief that Santucci is no longer roaming our county,” said New County Castle Police Col. Vaughn Bond Jr.

Authorities said they have found no evidence indicating that Santucci knew the victim.

The girl was playing outside with other children in the Plum Rum community in Pike Creek, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Wilmington, on April 6 when a man starting talking with her. The man lured her into a car and drove off, investigators have said.

Two hours later, someone spotted the girl wearing little clothing at a park about 8 miles (13 kilometers) away, where police say she had been thrown into a large pond.

On April 11, according to Bond, county police received a call from police in Elsmere, Delaware, where Santucci lived, saying he could be a potential person of interest. Bond refused to disclose what information was relayed by Elsmere police, or how they obtained it.

That same day, police said, Santucci apparently tried to stage his own disappearance, abandoning his car in the middle of an area road with engine running and the driver’s door open.

Investigators subsequently determined that Santucci had fled Delaware on a Greyhound bus for Florida, where he was arrested in Tampa on April 20 on a violation of probation charge stemming from 2012 convictions in Delaware for burglary, theft and conspiracy.

He was extradited on May 1 to Delaware, where he was charged with possession of child pornography. Police said the pornography charge is not related to the kidnapping victim but did not provide further details.

Authorities also did not provide details on what led Santucci to Florida or whether he was staying with people he knew there.

Bond, who described the kidnapping as a “heinous and despicable” crime that instilled fear throughout Delaware’s most populous county, thanked residents for their cooperation, saying their reports of suspicious activity and willingness to share personal surveillance footage proved valuable to investigators.

“Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to the victim and her family … because their lives have been altered forever,” he said.

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