By SCOTT NORTH
Two felons who were living in tents in the woods are among the people Everett police have spoken with after a 14-year-old girl was choked and repeatedly stabbed as she walked along the nearby Interurban Trail Monday morning.
One of the men, 47, is a convicted sex offender with a long history of approaching children offering to pay them for sex. The other man, 21, has juvenile convictions for felony property crimes, and early this year was convicted of misdemeanors for carrying a concealed knife and drug paraphernalia, records show.
Both men were living in tents in a wooded area about 200 yards from where the girl was attacked. Police on Monday obtained a search warrant for the older man’s tent, but found no evidence linking him to the attack, according to documents filed in Everett District Court.
Officers became suspicious when they came upon the man Monday morning, curled up on the ground next to a log. He told them he’d been sleeping there after a night of drinking with friends, according to court papers.
Both men were jailed on unrelated matters Monday. The 47-year-old appeared briefly before an Everett District Court judge on Tuesday afternoon, where his bail was set at $25,000. He was being held for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender.
Nobody is being jailed in connection with the assault, Deputy Chief Jerry Burke said Tuesday.
"There are persons of interest, but they are not considered suspects at this time," Burke emphasized.
As of Tuesday evening, police had not been able to interview the victim because of her condition, Burke said. Her account of what happened will be an important part of the investigation, he said.
The girl regained consciousness Tuesday afternoon and was upgraded from critical to serious condition, Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman Kristin Foley said in Seattle. The Cascade High School freshman remains connected to machines that are helping her to breathe.
The girl had been walking alone on the trail Monday morning, heading to a friend’s house where she planned to catch a bus that would take her to school. Burke, who oversees Everett police detectives, met Tuesday with a group of parents and students who gathered at Cascade to discuss the case.
He apologized for not having a lot of new information on what he described as a vicious and brutal attack.
"I wish I had a lot of information to provide you right now," Burke said. "I wish I could come here with (sketches), descriptions of the attacker. I don’t have that right now."
He stressed that the attack occurred three miles from the high school and that investigators believe it was "a random act of violence and a random act of opportunity."
In addition, he assured parents that police have not seen a pattern of violent assaults in the area where the assault took place.
Police Chief Jim Scharf said the department has not responded to any reports of violence in the trail area, other than some fights by juveniles and a stolen bicycle.
The girl’s attack simply underscores the need for people to be aware of the potential for violent crime anywhere and to take precautions, Scharf said. Walking alone in isolated areas increases risk, he said.
"Unfortunately, in this day and age it provides an opportunity for a crime to occur if there is somebody in the area who wants to victimize someone," Scharf said.
On Tuesday afternoon, at least one person still was living at the makeshift camp searched by police on Monday.
Angela Blocher, 19, curled up in blankets in her tent near the Interurban Trail. Two brown tarps were strung over the tents to keep the rain out. Her black dog, Bear, kept watch outside the tent.
Blocher said that for more than three months, she and her husband, William, have been living in the woods around Snohomish County. In mid-August, the couple moved into their camp at its present location just northeast of 109th Street SE.
A soggy, winding trail leads from a neighborhood of $180,000 homes to Blocher’s camp, about 200 yards from the site of Monday morning’s attack. Empty food containers, plastic grocery bags and beer cans were strewn about. A short strip of yellow "DO NOT CROSS" police tape and yellowing newspaper lay on the ground.
Blocher said she and her husband spent about three hours on Monday talking to police. Her husband was arrested on an outstanding warrant for a traffic-related offense, she said.
"All I know is some 14-year-old got stabbed on the way to school," she said. "I’m not really worried. I’ve got my dog."
Blocher said the 47-year-old man who lived in a tent nearby is a "really nice guy. I don’t think he could even hurt a fly."
Court records show the man has felony convictions for burglary and attempting to purchase sex from a minor. He’s charged with forgery for allegedly stealing a wallet and credit cards from a church.
Documents show that dating back to the early 1970s, the man has repeatedly been arrested for approaching young men and boys and either exposing himself or offering to pay them money to engage in sex.
His most recent conviction came in 1996 when, after a drinking binge, the man approached a 12-year-old boy who was riding a bike in a wooded area just south of Everett and offered him $50 for sex, court records show.
The man received sex offender treatment in the 1970s, and at the time told state experts that he was more interested in the opposite sex, even though the majority of his offenses had involved boys, court papers show.
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