NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) – An elderly North Port woman was sexually assaulted in public. Now a nationwide manhunt is underway to find the suspect and authorities need the public’s help.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 8, officials tell 8 On Your Side a 72-year-old woman was at a gazebo near the busy intersection of US 41 and Pan American Boulevard.
Sometime between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m., 28-year-old Robert McKenzie sexually assaulted her then took off on a bike.
Authorities soon identified him as a person of interest but they needed DNA confirmation.
“We knew the DNA evidence would ultimately show us who was responsible,” said North Port Police spokesman Josh Taylor.
But when police were finally ready to arrest him, he was gone. Officials say he bought a bus ticket and fled the state.
McKenzie has a criminal past.
“He’s certainly been active in the criminal world, here the last two years in North Port,” said Taylor.
McKenzie has previous charges that include theft and aggravated assault.
This latest crime happened in a family-friendly neighborhood, locals are stunned, saying the woman is well-known here.
“To be honest, that really shocked me because we don’t really have that around here much, at all. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of an instance like that,” said one resident.
“It’s a pretty good area. Could happen to anybody anywhere, in places much more dangerous than this,” said another man.
The US Marshals are now helping North Port Police track him down.
Neighbors say police have been canvassing the area near McKenzie’s home in recent weeks.
“Detectives were doing stakeouts and they were watching the house,” said neighbor Tonja Graham.
Graham tended to avoid McKenzie.
“I never spoke to him, he didn’t seem to me to be a very approachable friendly kind of person,” she said.
Authorities are eager to get this dangerous man behind bars.
“If you’re willing to do this once, are you willing to do this again?” said Taylor.
There is a $1,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest.