- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit” is 11-year-old Alyssa’s favorite TV show.
Watching “L&O: SVU” — and learning from the show’s character Capt. Olivia Benson — may have saved the Pensacola, Florida, girl’s life.
Escambia County deputies say that 30-year-old Jared Paul Stanga attacked Alyssa when she was walking to a bus stop on Perdido Drive and Old Correy Field Road just before 7 a.m. Tuesday, May 18. The Miami Herald is not using Alyssa’s last name.
According to the arrest report and a surveillance camera video released by detectives, the girl is seen sitting on the traffic island with her backpack on the ground near her when a white SUV passes by.
Alyssa is wary. She recognized the white SUV and the man inside from when the vehicle passed by about two or three weeks ago, she told deputies and her mom. At that time, the driver approached her and said “Hi.” Uncomfortable, she walked away to another bus stop as he drove off.
What the video shows
But on Tuesday, the man jumps out of his vehicle, runs toward Alyssa, grabs her as she whirls around to grab her backpack and tries to run. But the man grabs her around the head and neck, choking her, and starts carrying her to his SUV. She said he had a knife in one hand.
Alyssa struggles, screams and kicks at his legs, causing the man to trip, bringing both tumbling to the ground. The struggle happens in mere seconds. Alyssa breaks free and runs north toward her home, a nearby mobile home park. The man runs in the other direction, back to his SUV and speeds off.
Here’s the part where “Law & Order: SVU” comes into play. Deputies say that despite the speed with which Stanga grabbed her by the throat, Alyssa quickly realized she needed to leave a mark on her assailant.
“Evidence,” she told deputies.
But what could she use?
The answer hit like lightning. The blue slime she had been playing with while waiting for the bus. She told deputies with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office that she smeared it on the man to help police ID him.
Two days later, on Thursday, she told the same network that airs the “Law & Order” franchise her story.
“I was able to get the slime onto his upper arm and a little bit on his lower arm,” Alyssa told NBC’s “Today” show host Kerry Sanders in a broadcast that aired May 20. “I knew that might be better evidence if the cops do find him.”
Detectives catch suspect
Detectives, using surveillance video that showed much of the SUV’s route that morning, were able to catch Stanga.
Stanga had stopped to buy something at a nearby Murphy Express store at 7:08 a.m., about 10 minutes after the attempted kidnapping, and was wearing the same clothing. Footage shows the SUV, a 2016 Dodge Journey crossover registered to Stanga, had black paint on its silver bumper as seen in other surveillance video from the attack site.
And Stanga’s arms had streaks of the blue dye Alyssa said she managed to smear there, according to the arrest report.
Stanga’s attorney, Robert Dees, questioned his client’s arrest during a court hearing on Wednesday. He told the court Alyssa did not definitively pick his client from a photo lineup and initially said her attacker was Hispanic, The Associated Press reported.
Prosecutors feel the evidence is strong.
“She fought like a trouper,” Escambia Sheriff Chip Simmons said at a Wednesday news conference.
Stanga’s behavior at work that day seemed “odd,” according to the arrest report. He told his supervisor at the unidentified company’s site, which is just over the Florida line in Alabama, that he was going to be late — at 7:45 a.m. — because he had to drop his child off at school. But his child goes to virtual school so his supervisor thought the excuse was “odd.”
The report also said his co-workers noted Stanga’s behavior seemed unusual as he was taking calls from his wife “in private” when in the past he would talk to her on a headset in front of them.
Meanwhile, the girl’s mother told the Pensacola News Journal: “Her first words were, ‘Somebody tried to kidnap me. He grabbed me by my throat and he had a knife. 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.”
Response from ‘Law & Order’ star
NBC, “Law & Order” and one of its stars all reached out to Alyssa.
“I just feel proud of myself,” Alyssa told “Today.”
Sanders asked her what she thinks Capt. Olivia Benson might tell her about what she did to fight off her attacker.
“Probably ‘brave’ and ‘good job,’ ” Alyssa replied.
Indeed. The show’s star, Mariska Hargitay, who has played Benson in the “Law & Order” universe since 1999, reached out to Alyssa.
On an Instagram post, Hargitay, 57, wrote: “Alyssa, first and most important, I am so relieved and grateful to know that you are safe. And I am so honored to be part of your incredible story. You are one BRAVE, Strong and Smart young woman. I think the SVU squad might have to add slime to their crimefighting gear! Take good care of yourself and each other. With all my love, your number one fan, Mariska.”
Stanga is in an Escambia jail on a $1.5 million bond on charges of attempted kidnapping, battery and assault.