A 23-year-old Elsmere man who has been in custody for more than two weeks has been charged with attempted murder for kidnapping and molesting a 4-year-old Pike Creek girl , New Castle County police confirmed Monday.
The girl was found, barely clothed, in Banning Park about two hours after being abducted April 6 by a man driving a dark-colored sedan with tinted windows. She had been abducted while playing with friends outside her home in the Village of Plum Run townhouse complex – nine miles from the park.
Her alleged attacker, Daniel M. Santucci Jr., threw the girl in a large park pond after assaulting her, police said. She was found near the pond by someone who called 911.
Santucci, of the 600 block of New St., faces charges of first-degree attempted murder, first-degree kidnapping and unlawful sexual contact of a child under 13. If convicted of the attempted murder count alone, he would spend 15 years to life behind bars. Santucci is being held at Howard Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington in lieu of $1,076,000 cash bail, police said.
Police said there is no indication that Santucci knew his victim.
A judge has sealed court records that detail the charges against Santucci, whose arrest spread virally on Facebook and other social media Sunday night. New Castle County officials would not confirm his identify until 1 p.m. Monday, when police chief Col. Vaughn Bond Jr. named him during a news conference.
The Facebook post identifying Santucci had been shared nearly 1,500 times by noon Monday and generated hundreds of comments condemning the crime and the suspect. Santucci’s profile picture on his own Facebook page has a picture of him holding a toddler; the little girl is not wearing a shirt.
“I share the feeling of relief with the community and our officers now that this predator is off the street,” said Bond, who credited other agencies and the public for assisting on the case. “I’d like to express my sincere thanks to the citizens who took the time to call in suspicious activity and offered their personal surveillance footage which all proved to be valuable in this investigation.”
Though arrest affidavits are almost always available to the public in Delaware criminal cases, Magistrate Robert C. Lopez of the Justice of the Peace Court granted a request by law enforcement to the seal the records.
Releasing the information, Lopez wrote, “could adversely affect the ongoing investigation, among other reasons, by influencing or stifling of witness information,” Lopez wrote in his May 4 sealing order “in the matter of Daniel M. Santucci Jr.”
Bond said Monday that Elsmere police alerted them that Santucci might be involved in the crime, and that his black Honda civic was later found abandoned with its driver’s door open, on Centerville Road. Authorities later determined that Santucci, who attended Alexis I. du Pont High and McKean high schools, had staged his own disappearance and fled on a Greyhound bus to Tampa, Fla.
Delaware also issued a violation of probation warrant against Santucci for a previous burglary conviction. He was arrested on a fugitive warrant n Tampa on April 20 and also charged there on a child pornography count. He was brought to Delaware on May 1 and charged with the abduction and attack on May 5.
Bond would not detail more of the evidence against Santucci, stressing that the investigation is ongoing.
On the day after the attack, Bond had called the kidnapper a “heartless monster,” said the girl was sexually assaulted, and labeled the investigation his force’s “No. 1 priority.” He said then that “there is nothing lower that a person can do than to take advantage and sexually abuse and take the innocence of a 4-year-old child.”
Residents in the quiet enclave of Plum Rum and the surrounding area have been outraged and frightened by the audacious crime in the 4800 block of Sugar Plum Court, leading Bond and Meyer to hold a community meeting at Dickinson High School a few days after the assault to address concerns and stress their commitment to solving the crime.