Sheriff: Suspect contacted Madera teen online weeks before rape occurred

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Madera County investigators are looking for a van believed to belong to the suspect accused of raping an underage girl several times after targeting her online.

"This was not a random I picked someone out, street attack," said Sheriff Jay Varney.

Varney says they learned about the crime on April 3 after he says the victim reported what happened to a school counselor.

He also believes the suspect connected with the underage child online weeks before the attack.

"This was something where this person made contact where they felt this person was a female on social media, and somehow built a relationship, although they never met, over a period of time," he said.

Varney says the suspect picked up the young girl near Stadium Road and Olive Avenue, and he told her she'd be paid to sell fruit at a corner stand.

He then drove south, the alleged van captured on camera from the surveillance system at Madera South High School.

Investigators say he took the girl to a rural part of the county, raped her at least three times in different locations, then dropped her back off in the city.

"Anyone that sees a van like that van, we'd certainly like the opportunity to either connect it or eliminate it from the investigation," the sheriff said.

Varney says the victim told investigators the suspect also had a machete in the van.

He says, unfortunately, this could've happened to anyone on social media and advises parents to look into who they're children may be talking to online.

"Just have a conversation with them that you're not trying to be the eye in the sky that sees everything, but there's people out there that will take advantage of well-meaning young people, and this is sometimes the result," Varney said.
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