Police find abducted SFC student's backpack

Santa Fe College Police Chief Ed Book, right, hands fliers and a sign-in sheet to Nicole Yancy, a field-service technician with Alachua County Sheriffs Office, who has been watching an area where a missing backpack was found during a volunteer canvass at the SFC campus in Gainesville on Sunday. Volunteers were looking for items, including a cellphone, belonging to a woman who was the victim of a kidnapping Thursday night at SFC. The backpack, which belongs to the victim, was found earlier in the day during preparation for the volunteer canvass of the area.

(Brad McClenny/Staff photographer)
Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 4:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 4:11 p.m.

Police on Sunday morning found the backpack a Santa Fe College student dropped as she was abducted from the school's parking lot last week, but investigators were still looking for the biggest piece of the puzzle — the suspect.

The student, an 18-year-old woman from Trenton, told police a man approached her between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday with a gun and forced her into his truck. He drove around with her for a few hours before she was able to get away from the truck as it slowed down in traffic near the 12000 block of Northwest 39th Avenue, a few miles from campus.

Daryl Johnston, the director of Santa Fe's Institute of Public Safety and the former chief of the school's police department, found the woman's bag — a white backpack with vertical lines of hearts — in a field on the northern edge of campus at 10:59 a.m. as he was setting up for a search.

Ed Book, the current chief of the police department, said the backpack had not been there Saturday, meaning someone dropped it there overnight.

“We have been right here,” Book said near the spot where the bag was recovered. “That wasn't here at this time yesterday.”

A crime-scene technician took molds of footprints at the scene, near an access road that runs along Northwest 91st Street.

The Alachua County Sheriff's Office said two men were seen looking through the backpack in the parking lot before walking away with it, but they were not considered suspects in the abduction.

The agency released a composite sketch of the suspect, describing him as having a dark complexion and possibly being of Middle Eastern descent, between 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 11 inches tall and in his late 20s or early 30s.

He had close-cut hair, an unshaven face and a tattoo on the back of his right hand, the Sheriff's Office said.

He was driving a small, dark pickup truck with dark tinted windows and a gray interior.

In addition to looking for the suspect, police were also hoping to find the victim's cellphone Sunday but had no luck on campus.

Still, Book was glad to get the backpack.

“Recovering the items for the victim is a small victory,” he said, “but it's a victory.”

Asked about the motive, Book, who spent more than 25 years at the Gainesville Police Department before taking the helm of the Santa Fe department in October, said there were some theories, but he declined to go into detail.

“There are some thoughts,” he said, “but it's not as clear as we would like it.”

As of Sunday, the focus was more on finding the suspect than determining his motive, the chief said.

“This is a guy that's still out there,” he said. “We have got to catch him.”

Sheriff's Office spokesman Art Forgey said other than finding the backpack, there were no developments in the case Sunday.

In the afternoon, a group of about 30 volunteers walked the parking lot where the woman was abducted and the grass field where the backpack was found, looking for more evidence.

They found an old student identification card, a plastic gun, and a pink and white rope bracelet. None of it appeared to be tied to the case.

Contact Chad Smith at 338-3104 or chad.smith@gvillesun.com.

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