On Thursday afternoon, a news team from The Guam Daily Post visited the area where the alleged abduction and rape of a 13-year-old girl occurred in Dededo. Our team went there for the second day.
While the Post staff sought out residents who were willing to talk, our team was also confronted with questions.
One resident asked why it took us nearly two days to report on the abduction and rape that allegedly occurred Monday evening. Our team was asked why we cared now when we didn't report on the matter sooner.
The Post went to the scene in less than an hour of us hearing about the incident on Wednesday, thanks, in part to Dededo Mayor Melissa Savares, who lives in the neighborhood that shares the same block as Maria Ulloa Elementary School and is a short walk to Benavente Middle School.
Police subsequently released information to the public on Wednesday afternoon, two days after the alleged attack.
The victim, who lives in the area near Papa Store on West San Antonio Avenue, had just made a purchase at the store Monday night and was heading home when she was allegedly grabbed and then sexually assaulted in a nearby jungle. The girl survived the alleged attack but had to be transported to Guam Memorial Hospital.
On Wednesday, it was pretty clear the neighbors were on edge and contemplated taking justice into their own hands. Savares acknowledged some of the neighbors were so enraged that as police were combing the jungle and the surrounding area, residents were searching along with them. “They were grabbing pipes and machetes 'cause they were going to find the perpetrator,” Savares said.
As of Thursday afternoon, there was no word from police whether they have a suspect and if the suspect is still at large. The police haven't changed their public announcement that they need the public's help in getting information that would lead them to identify the suspect.
We know the Guam Police Department lacks officers. They need more officers on the streets to adequately cover the island's villages, particularly Dededo, which is the most populated and covers one of the largest geographical areas in terms of residential communities on Guam. We also understand that GPD needed time to verify and check out the call.
But we also know that in situations such as these, when a suspect is on the loose and could pose a continuing danger to the community, it is GPD's responsibility to let the public know what's going on – as soon as possible – even when the information is preliminary.
Waiting for two days to confirm that a suspect in a child abduction and rape might still be roaming our community is not the way to do right by our residents.
We don't completely fault the police department, which is overwhelmed with so many calls and cases and bogged down by very limited staffing.
We do need to point out that informing the public with urgency is paramount even when police don't have the full picture of the events. And the alleged abduction and sexual assault in Dededo is just one of the more recent cases involving a gap in public safety information dissemination. When a random shooting suspect may be lurking in a dark highway on Route 15 we need to know quickly. When two escapees jump the prison fence, we in the community also need to know right away.
When our awareness is heightened because we are armed with information from our public safety agencies, we become better prepared to look after our safety. It also puts us on alert so we know that something slightly out of place could be something more - and that information shared with police could help them identify and get the suspect off the streets.
We recognize that keeping our streets safe has to be a community effort. But the community can't help if we don't know what's going on.
We can't continue to be in the dark. We don't want to be caught off guard.