PENSACOLA, Fla. – The mother of an 11-year-old girl who fended off a would-be kidnapper at her bus stop this week says the girl had the presence of mind to mark the man with the freshly dyed homemade blue slime she was playing with at the time.
Amber Bonal, the mother of 11-year-old Alyssa Bonal, the victim of the attempted kidnapping, said her daughter told her that she was playing with the slime while waiting for her bus Tuesday morning when she saw the man running toward her.
Escambia County Sheriff Chip Simmons said that when law enforcement found the suspect after the incident, the man had blue dye on his arms.
The girl told her mother after the incident, “Somebody tried to kidnap me. He grabbed me by my throat and he had a knife.”
“She said she was able to kick and she tripped him and freed herself,” Amber Bonal told the News Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, in an exclusive interview Wednesday morning, a little more than 24 hours after the attack. “She said, ‘Mom, I had to leave some sort of evidence behind, like on Law & Order SVU.’ We’ve watched probably every episode on Hulu. She’s a smart cookie, she thinks on her toes. She got that slime everywhere.”
The blue dye from the slime was part of the evidence that led police to 30-year-old Jared Paul Stanga, who was arrested and charged Tuesday night in the attempted kidnapping case. Escambia County Sheriff Chip Simmons said Stanga had a white Dodge Journey at his home like the one seen on surveillance video used in the attack and the vehicle had a matching license plate. Simmons said Stanga tried to paint over the front chrome bumper with black paint by the time deputies came knocking on his door.
Stanga was taken into custody without incident Tuesday evening and charged with attempted kidnapping, aggravated assault and battery. He made his first appearance in court Wednesday, when a judge set his bond at more than $1.5 million.
May 19: Video shows 11-year-old girl escaping attempted kidnapping while waiting for school bus in Pensacola
In court Wednesday, Stanga’s defense attorney, Robert Dees, cast doubt on whether his client is the right suspect, saying the girl was unable to select him definitively in a photo lineup and she initially described him as Hispanic while Stanga is Caucasian.
The Bonal family, meanwhile, is still reeling from the attempted kidnapping. Alyssa is doing well, her mother said, although she doesn’t think she’s fully grasped just how close she came to being taken away.
“If she would have been taken …” Bonal said, covering her eyes as she began to cry, her voice trailing away. “If she would have been taken, I could have lost her forever.”
Amber Bonal holds a photo of her 11-year-old daughter Alyssa Bonal outside their home in Pensacola on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. Amber explains that Alyssa’s quick thinking and action thwarted yesterday's kidnapping attempt. (Photo: Gregg Pachkowskiemail@example.com)
A normal school day turned into a nightmare
Tuesday started out as a normal school day for the Bonal family.
Bonal, 30, has her own cleaning business, although she hasn’t been able to find work for the past year or so due to the pandemic. She lives in a trailer damaged by Hurricane Sally with Alyssa, as well as her teenage son, Christopher, her 18-month-old daughter, Jazzlyn, and their dog, Boo.
Alyssa has taken the recent financial hardships in stride, helping with grocery shopping and child care when not in school at West Pensacola Elementary, where she recently made the A/B honor roll.
“She’s very smart. She loves school,” Bonal said. “She’s very shy and timid, but once the outer shell goes away, she’s just a ball of energy. She’s very funny, spunky, different. She’s the kid that wears the different type of clothes. She gets picked on sometimes and she’d come home and talked to me about it, and for a while she had trouble making friends due to her uniqueness. But now she’s got some good friends, they do girl talk on the phone, it’s adorable.”
Alyssa’s bus stop used to be at the end of the driveway where Bonal’s trailer and a few other trailers sit. But because of a bus driver shortage, Escambia County School District moved Alyssa’s bus stop about 50 yards away from her driveway to the corner of busy Old Corry Field Road and Perdido Street about halfway through the school year.
On April 29, two weeks before the attempted kidnapping, Bonal said Alyssa came home from school and told her that a strange man had approached her and made her feel uneasy.
“She told me that a man in a white car pulled up, spoke to her and said ‘hello’ or ‘Hola’ or something,” she said. “He proceeded to get out of the car, and then that’s when she ran off to the next bust stop and got on the bus. She went to school, told her teacher and the teacher told the principal.”
Ever since that incident, Bonal has been walking with Alyssa to the bus stop and waiting with her until she gets on her bus.
On Tuesday morning, Bonal was planning to walk with Alyssa again to the stop, but as they were walking out the door, she realized 18-month-old Jazzlyn needed a diaper change.
“We were running late. She usually leaves for the bus stop at 6:50, and it was 6:52,” Bonal said. “I told her to go ahead and I would be out there in a minute, I start changing the baby’s diaper. I hadn’t even finished changing the diaper before she ran back in the house. Her hair was all messed up, she had slime everywhere and I asked her what was going on. I thought maybe she had been hit by a car, but I never would have thought somebody would have tried to take her.”
Amber Bonal talks Wednesday, May 19, 2021, about how her 11-year-old daughter, Alyssa Bonal, was in the process of adding blue dye to her homemade slime when a man attempted to kidnap her Tuesday, May 18, 2021, at a bus stop in Pensacola. Amber Bonal said her daughter is a fan of “Law & Order: SUV” and acted quickly to get some of the blue slime on the suspect, which helped authorities identify him. (Photo: Gregg Pachkowskifirstname.lastname@example.org)
A coincidental conversation on Sunday may have saved Alyssa’s life
Alyssa had just sat down at the fire hydrant that marks her bus stop and was beginning to pour blue dye into her homemade slime when the white Dodge Journey drove by once.
Fewer than 60 seconds later, the Journey circled back to the bus stop corner and parked at the stop sign, as seen in surveillance video released by the Sheriff’s Office. That’s when a man can be seen on surveillance footage exiting the driver’s side of the car, running full speed toward Alyssa and grabbing her by the neck as she tried to run away.
Alyssa kicked, flailed and fought the attacker, and he tripped, sending both of them to the ground. The man then ran back to his car and drove away, and Alyssa ran back toward her house.
Bonal said she coincidentally had a conversation with her daughter just a few days ago about what to do in the event someone tried to take her.
“Ironically, on Sunday, the neighbor’s little girl was over at our house, and I don’t know how or why it got brought up but I was telling them that if anyone ever tried to abduct you, you kick and scream and bite and yell,” Bonal said. “I don’t care if they have a knife or a gun, you get away and you find the first open door, and she said that that was what was going through her head when the man grabbed her.”
The first open door Alyssa came across was that of her neighbor and good friend who lives just a few houses down from her and her mother. Alyssa ran into her neighbor’s house, and the neighbor told her to immediately run to her mother’s house as he watched.
When Alyssa was safely inside, the neighbor took off in his car in search of the suspect, but his car soon broke down.
Meanwhile, Bonal called police and they were on scene within 20 minutes, she said. Within eight hours, the Sheriff’s Office had Stanga in custody, and he was formally charged and booked into jail at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Alyssa is still recovering from the trauma of Tuesday’s incident, but Bonal said she plans to enroll her daughter in trauma counseling, regular therapy and karate classes.
Simmons, the sheriff, said Tuesday that he encouraged parents to teach their children to “fight like hell” in the event someone is trying to take them, a sentiment that Bonal echoed.
Bonal said her daughter is her hero and she’s proud of the way she responded in the situation.
“We need to bring more awareness to something like this, because it could have been really bad,” she said. “She could have been gone forever.”
Follow Annie Blanks on Twitter: @AnniePNJ
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