Girl tells of bus stop groping

Modesto City Schools sent out its first emergency call on a new phone dialer system Friday afternoon, warning parents that a Downey High School girl had reported being groped at an east Modesto bus stop that morning.

Authorities said one of those 31,000 calls districtwide led police to a 21-year-old Empire man, who they believe accosted the girl then pulled a pistol on her brother when he gave chase.

Investigators later learned the pistol was a toy that resembled a real weapon.

School district officials got a tip from a caller who had heard the school's prerecorded message. The caller gave administrators information about the suspect and his location.

Police found the suspect about 4:30 p.m., Sgt. Craig Gundlach said. The man was not arrested. Instead, they filed a complaint with the Stanislaus County district attorney's office on two misdemeanor charges of annoying or molesting a child and brandishing a replica firearm.

Police did not reveal the suspect's name.

The man was questioned by police, who found a car matching the one described by the victims -- a 2004 silver Dodge Stratus. It was at a home in Empire he shared with his parents, Gundlach said. They also found a blue Airsoft pistol.

The 15-year-old Downey girl was at a bus stop near East Orangeburg Avenue and Cordero Court at 7:30 a.m. when a man approached and grabbed her "inappropriately," police said.

The girl's 23-year-old brother heard her screams and chased the man to a 2004 silver Dodge Stratus with only a paper rear license plate. When the man got into his car, he brandished a weapon.

About noon, Modesto City Schools used its new emergency notification system to warn parents about the attack. Stu- dents attending Downey High School, La Loma Junior High School, and Sonoma and Lake- wood elementary schools also were given a note to take home to their parents, school district spokeswoman Shannon Crag- head said.

District officials said they believed the incident was a "safety issue" for students and wanted to get the word out quickly to parents.

Schools began using the system, called SchoolMessenger, for attendance-related calls in August.

It took less than an hour to complete calls to all district households in English and Spanish, district technology director Stan Trevena said.

On Monday, some parents criticized the district for failing to inform them about a threat, written on a bathroom wall at Downey High School, to "shoot up the school" that day. Police and school officials discounted the threat, but rumors spread on the networking site MySpace.

Daisy Lee, the new associate superintendent of administrative and pupil services, said that feedback served as a lesson to administrators.

"Parents told us they wanted to know," Lee said. "Rather than having rumors that spread, we'd rather give them information that's accurate and timely."

Friday's report came after a string of incidents last summer in which girls said they were accosted and groped on their way to school in west and south Modesto.

Pedro Renteria, 19, remains in custody on charges connected to those incidents, with bail set at $250,000. He is charged with six felonies.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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