In the alleys between rows of battered duplexes in Santa Rosa's South Park neighborhood Tuesday morning, children's bikes lay discarded in rough grass while their young riders peered out curtained windows.
From toddlers to teens, children were being kept indoors by parents who said they were nervous about their children's safety following an early morning break-in and attack by a man on a 12-year-old girl.
The girl, a soon-to-be eighth-grader at Slater Middle School, awoke to the man touching her in her Aston Avenue bedroom. Her screams alerted family members to the attack, and the intruder fled, crawling back out the bedroom window he had entered after cutting through a screen.
"The duplex this child was in wasn't facing the street and was somewhat hidden from street view. There was nobody to see him doing it. The person may have had advance knowledge of the victim living there," Police Sgt. Lisa Banayat said.
The window the man entered through was unlocked and open while the girl slept, offering a cool breeze on an overcast night. But the screen was little deterrent; it was taken as evidence after the 1:30 a.m. attack.
Detectives were meeting with neighbors in the area who said they'd seen a man apparently looking in windows during the night.
"Apparently somebody saw a suspicious guy several hours before the crime," Banayat said. Nothing was reported about him until later Tuesday morning. But the man fit a description similar to that of the suspect in the attempted molestation, she said.
He was described as a dark-skinned, heavyset man, about 40 years old and 5-foot-5. He wore dark-colored clothing.
Detectives were trying to determine if there was enough information to produce a sketch of the man.
Police also were checking on the status of registered sex offenders in the area and contacting state parole officers for people of similar descriptions -- all standard procedures in such cases.
The girl's teenage brother, who answered the door at the family home Tuesday morning, said his sister was physically fine and doing well. He said family members had no other comment and the girl's parents did not want to speak about the incident.
The break-in is the second time in as many weeks that a sleeping Santa Rosa girl has been approached by a man entering a home in the early morning hours. Last week, a man approached a 13-year-old girl in her home on Tokay Street, just a few blocks south of Tuesday's attack. He fled but the girl recognized him as a neighbor and he was arrested.
"It's one of the most horrible things someone can do," said 17-year-old Hailey Hughes, who recently moved with her mother to the South Park neighborhood.
The teen, who is homeschooled, said she rarely goes out in the neighborhood.
"I don't really feel safe around here, mostly because of what happened last night. It's not something you expect to happen, but I'm not surprised given the neighborhood," she said.
In a neighborhood familiar with crime, Hughes is not alone. Many parents home on Tuesday morning said they keep close tabs on their children.
The police investigation Tuesday morning was just another reminder to be vigilant, said Aston Avenue mother Guadalupe Romero.
"When we sleep, we keep the windows closed, and if someone knocks on the door when it's night or early in the morning, we don't answer," she said in Spanish. "There are so many problems here, and we worry about our kids."