A Florida girl with special needs was kidnapped on Tuesday, according to police — and had it not been for watchful bystanders, it could have ended very differently.
A witness spotted the vulnerable 17-year-old girl inside a man’s van at the mobile home park where she lives in Ocala, Florida, deputies said. The bystander also noticed the man was “kissing her on the neck,” according to a Marion County Sheriff’s Office Facebook post.
But as that witness and other bystanders tried to alert the girl’s mother, the man in the van — James Wesley Dyess, 47 — took off with the girl, deputies said.
That’s when the witnesses from the mobile home park acted: They began driving around the neighborhood on the lookout for Dyess, and ultimately found him in the parking lot of a nearby retail store, deputies said. He was trying to molest the girl in the van at that point, according to the sheriff’s office.
Witnesses told the girl to get out of Dyess’ van, and she listened, the sheriff’s office said. The bystanders then called police.
Once the girl was out of Dyess’ van, he drove off, deputies said.
The Levy County Sheriff’s Office tracked down and arrested Dyess the next day at his home in Morriston, Florida, the sheriff’s office said. He’s being held in Levy County’s jail on suspicion of simple battery and kidnapping in Marion County.
Dyess will be brought back to Marion County to face charges.
Authorities told the public to come forward with any tips on any “suspicious activity between Dyess and (other) children.”
“We had some investigative leads come forth that lead us to believe that he may have done this in the past,” said Lauren Lettelier, a Marion County Sheriff’s Office public information officer, according to WCJB. “If you know of any type of suspicious incident involving Dyess and children, we are asking you to come forward.”
The girl’s mother told the sheriff’s office that her “developmentally delayed” teenager has the mental capacity of a child of 12, the Gainesville Sun reports.