By Jeff Wagner

COON RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO) – Parents and teenagers are changing their habits around an Anoka County park where police said a man nearly abducted a 16-year-old girl. Investigators say they’re following up on 100 leads since the incident Friday. It happened along a trail near Coon Rapids Boulevard and Vale Street Northwest, not far from several softball fields and a playground.

(credit: MN BCA)

Running softball practice is typically Jenny Wiitanen’s main role, but the coach now has something more important on her mind given what happened along the trail right around the corner.

“These girls are my first priority, making sure they’re safe,” she said. “When I was coming home from work (Friday) I saw the girl sitting on the corner at the light and I saw the fire departments sitting there with a towel on her head.”

Despite being pepper-sprayed, the girl fought back and escaped. A witness helped her call 911. The transcript shows the girl told dispatch, “I was skating and this guy like literally grabbed me and pulled me into the woods.”

SEE ALSO: Police Seek Public’s Help Identifying Man Who Attacked Teen On Coon Rapids Bike Trail

Parent Brie Ellis was watching her daughter’s softball practice and said, “My best friend and I walk these trails every time they practice, so we see some sketchy things happening down there. It really doesn’t surprise me, but it makes it more scary that it’s closer to home.”

Wiitanen contacted Coon Rapids Police Department via Facebook Messenger to make sure it was still safe to hold practice given the man has not been caught. She received an automated response and decided to still run the practice.

“I got more parents here and then I have my husband here. We have cell phones. If we have any issues I would definitely call 911,” she said.

The girls on the team are playing it safe as well. Anna Shellito, one of the several parents watching practice, said her daughter is now avoiding the trail.

“I was really proud of her that she knew it wasn’t safe and didn’t want to go that way and that her friends actually communicate with each other, like ‘don’t go that way,’” Shellito said.

Despite having a few promising leads, police still want people to contact them if they might have any information that can help them find the suspect. They’re asking people to call (763) 427-1212.

Jeff Wagner