HERNANDO, Fla. (WFLA) — A store clerk, a mother, and a quick-thinking deputy are being credited with saving a girl from a potential abduction in Florida.
Deputies responded to a Dollar General store at 11: 42 a.m. on Tuesday after receiving a 911 call about something happening inside the store.
The initial call indicated the caller heard screaming, but dispatchers then learned that an attempted child abduction was in process.
Investigators say the suspect, Craig Bonello, age 30, entered the store and at some point grabbed a 13-year-old girl who was shopping with her mother. As he ran toward the exit of the store with the girl in his arms, the mother was able to catch up to him and grab her daughter.
Screaming could be heard throughout the store as the suspect and the mother got into a tug-of-war over the girl.
Bonello finally let go of the girl and ran out the front door of the Dollar General. Off-duty Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputy Jonathan Behnen happened to be getting out of his patrol car to enter the store.
Behnen had been to court earlier in the morning and had stopped at the store to grab supplies when he encountered the running suspect.
The store manager, who is known to Dep. Behnen, then yelled to him that the man running away had just tried to kidnap a child. Behnen pulled his patrol car in front of the suspect’s vehicle as he tried to leave the parking lot. He ordered the man out of the car with his weapon in hand. After initially not complying, the man was taken into custody.
“In my 10 years on the road, I have never seen anything like this,” Citrus County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Craig Callahan said from the scene. “He truly intended to abduct this child right in front of everyone in the store.”
“It actually was violent enough to tear the girl’s shirt up pretty badly that she was wearing,” Sgt. Callahan added. “We’re very fortunate that the mother had the motherly instinct and did what she did. She may have saved her daughter’s life.”
The mother and her daughter, although both very rattled, are uninjured.
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“Behnen is a bona fide hero today,” said said Citrus County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ricky Grant, who was also on scene. “If it weren’t for him, this guy would have gotten away.”
“This was a chaotic scene with a lot at stake,” said Commander Buddy Grant.
“Thank goodness the girl’s mother jumped into action to prevent this man from kidnapping her daughter. And, thank goodness Dep. Behnen used his training and experience to stop this man from escaping,” said Grant.
Because charges are forthcoming for the suspect, the sheriff’s office said it is not releasing the names of those involved at this time.
The intentions of Bonello as of yet are not known. Detectives will be investigating the incident thoroughly and will be charging Bonello in the near future. Bonello is not listed as a sexual offender or predator. He lives in Inverness.
The incident has parents and Dollar General customers rethinking their safety.
“They’re a little older now, so I let ’em do more. And I don’t even know if I can do that. I mean, it’s scary,” mom Ashley Harper told Media General contributors. Harper, who is not the victim’s mother, had two of her three kids with her when she talked to contributors.
Nobody answered at Bonello’s residence Tuesday.
A neighbor said the suspect is known for leaving trash bags at the curb.
“He didn’t want to be seen by anybody. When he came out put the garbage, I think he peaked around, is anybody out?” James Mussleman said.
This story was originally published by News 4 sister station WFLA, a Media General Contributing station.