This story was originally published on Fairfax Station Patch, where Patricia Mandes writes regularly. You can read all her stories .
How many times have you warned your children, “Don’t walk on the trails alone?” If you’re like me, countless times. Let me tell you a scary story that happened in Burke Centre to a girl I know. Although the event took place in November, it has just been resolved by the Fairfax County Court.
Wednesday, Nov. 24, began with promise. The students from Robinson Secondary had been dismissed early, the afternoon was free, and Thanksgiving was around the corner. After arriving home, a group of friends decided to hike to the Burke Centre Shopping Center. These teens, all juniors, had known each other for years. The six boys and two girls decided to walk on the trail that led through the woods and exited by The Oaks Community Center.
By 12:45, the friends were strolling along the trail, enjoying themselves and the warm, sunny day. All of a sudden, a tall man emerged from the woods. He stopped them and started “joking around,” described one of the students.
“Why aren’t you in school?” the man quizzed them. “Ha, ha, ha! You’re going into the woods to smoke, aren’t you?”
Unsure what to do, the teens were even more startled when the stranger grabbed a bag of chips from one of the girls and began eating them.
He started to ask random questions. “What are you doing? Do you know my kids?” he queried repeatedly.
The other girl was carrying her wallet in her pocket, attached to a lanyard. The man snatched the lanyard, and the wallet, of course, flew out of her pocket and into his hands. He carefully inspected her driver’s license, which was tucked securely into a see-through compartment on the front of the wallet.
Then the questions started flying. “Is this really your name? Do you live at that address? How old are you? I can’t see your age.”
Not willing to put up with much more aggravation, the girl snatched at the lanyard and snagged her wallet. With that, the villain in my story seized her arm and started sniffing her arm and shoulder.
“How freaky!” she later commented.
At that point, all the kids seemingly woke up from their trance. “We left as fast as we could,” my star witness stated.
But that didn’t deter the man, who walked behind them for a few minutes. “Follow me,” he cried over and over again. “I’m a good daddy!”
By the time the Robinson students reached Burke Centre Parkway, their would-be assailant had retreated. The relieved kids enjoyed visiting Safeway, eating lunch at Chipotle and checking out the bargains at Kohl’s. They spent little time thinking about their earlier experience on the trail.
Just to be cautious, however, they decided to return home using a different route. They walked past Fairview Elementary, then turned onto the path near the school. Hearing someone whistle at them, they turned around when an unwelcome, all too familiar voice hollered, “I tried to flag you down. Wait. Wait.”
The Robinson teens broke into a run, determined not to “let that guy get to us again.” Unfortunately, he kept up with them surprisingly well. He chased them along the path, down a steep hill, and across neighbors’ yards, even crawling through a hole in a fence. He was as determined to catch them as they were to escape.
The friends finally reached safety -- a house owned by a person they all knew -- and darted inside. Their nemesis paced frenziedly up and down the sidewalk, muttering to himself.
Curious about the strange event unfolding on this usually peaceful street, neighbors started asking him, “What’s going on?”
The man’s response was creative. “I want those girls to come out. They stole my dog. And everybody was smoking marijuana!”
Mr. E, who was sheltering the students, stepped outside to set the record straight. Before he had spoken more than a sentence or two, the man gave him a shove. Thinking he smelled alcohol on his breath, Mr. E grew concerned that the violence might escalate. He wisely withdrew to his house and called the police.
As you might expect, the man vanished. One resourceful neighbor who knew his name looked him up online to see if he was a registered sex offender; he was not. When the police tracked him down and questioned him about his aberrant behavior, he asserted that he was about to have a diabetic attack, which might leave him in a coma. The officers’ only choice was to transport him to the hospital.
As other police officers continued talking with the teens and their parents, two facts became clear. The man lived far too close for comfort to Fairview Elementary and to the trail on which many children walked home. In addition, he had recently been released from jail. He had been charged with violating a restraining order, which prevented him from contacting his wife and children.
As soon as things quieted down, the teenager who had been harassed began texting her classmates. She discovered that another girl, walking with a friend that same afternoon on the same secluded trail in The Oaks, had met the same man. He grabbed her wallet and began taunting her until she wrested the wallet from him.
That evening, the girl, her parents and Mr. E drove into Fairfax City to appear before the Magistrate. After listening to their story, the police official agreed to press charges: misdemeanor assault for pushing Mr. E and juvenile misdemeanor assault for bothering and intimidating the girl.
The man was later arrested by the police, taken to jail, charged, and released on bail. Two court dates in January were also scheduled. That weekend, however, the man saw two of the boys at the shopping center and vowed to “ruin their lives,” just like they had ruined his!
Now what lessons can the teens, their parents, and hopefully everyone else gain from this appalling experience? Always carry your cell phone, the police officers advised. If someone stalks, bullies, and threatens you, tell that person firmly to stop. Then call 911 and take a photo of your tormenter. Although perhaps you can’t make that call because you’re trying to protect yourself, your companions can. Be careful when you deal with creepy people like this, but stand up for yourself and your friends.
And remember: whether you live in Burke Centre, Fairfax Station, or Clifton, don’t walk on the footpaths and bridle trails by yourself.
After the Burke resident failed to appear for the first court date in January, the judge ordered his bond to be revoked. He was to be picked up and jailed.
Another court date was set, Feb. 16. That day, the Commonwealth Attorney spoke to the girl and her father at the Courthouse, asking them for their thoughts on an appropriate settlement. She next conferred with the defendant’s Public Defender.
A settlement was reached. Instead of simple assault, he would be charged with the lesser crime, disorderly conduct. He would receive a sentence of 180 days in jail, with 150 days suspended. A restraining order was also issued. If he violated that, he would return to jail to serve the rest of his sentence.