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Girl banged on school windows for help after fighting off attacker

Diego Gettler grabbed the victim from behind and covered her mouth as she tried to scream, an arrest affidavit says.

THORNTON, Colorado — The parents of a man accused of trying to abduct a 10-year-old girl identified him as the suspect and described him to Thornton Police as "violent and possibly having mental health issues."

Diego Gettler was arrested Monday in connection with Friday's attempted abduction of a 10-year-old girl outside of STEM Launch K-8 at 9450 Pecos St.

According to an arrest affidavit, the victim was dropped off at the school by her mother around 7:20 a.m. and she walked to the east of the building near the fourth- and fifth-grade waiting area. As she sat there, the affidavit says, a man walked up to her and asked whether she went to school there.

She said the man made her feel uncomfortable, so she stood up, and at some point, the man grabbed her from behind with his hands and arms around her waist, the affidavit says.

RELATED: Suspect arrested in attempted abduction outside Thornton school

The girl said she began to scream, but that the man put his hand over her mouth. She began grabbing at the man and was able to pull down the mask he was wearing, the affidavit says. At that point, the girl said, it appeared the man was "spooked" and ran away.

"If you start struggling, it’s not what they expect," said Dr. Denise Mowder, professor of criminology and criminal justice at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "They don’t expect the yelling, and I think she pulled his mask down. I’m sure he didn’t expect that, and that throws him off and suddenly it’s like they’re protecting themselves and they’ll just kind of give up, like this guy did."

The girl said no other students, staff or faculty were in the area, and after she broke free she ran and banged on the windows until school staff opened the doors for her.

Mowder said it's important for kids to know they can fight back against an attacker. 

"Often we teach our children to be polite and don’t be rude to adults, when in fact we should be saying, 'Be polite and don’t be rude to adults we know,'" Mowder said. "So, they have permission to fight, scream, yell, and maybe even be rude to someone that they don’t know."

Security video showed the man appearing to "violently" grab the girl with his right hand around her neck area, the affidavit says. As she tried to move away, the affidavit says, he wrapped both arms around her.

Some of the attack is out of camera view, but at one point the suspect is "thrashing backward" in an attempt to gain control of the girl, the affidavit says.

He was last seen running toward a greenbelt area.

Credit: Thornton Police
Diego Gettler

On Monday, Gettler's parents walked into the Thornton Police Department to report their son as the possible suspect in the case. They explained that based on the security images of the suspect and car that it was possibly their son.

They live about a mile from the STEM Launch school and provided their son's cellphone number. Investigators were able to determine that Gettler's phone was accessing a cell tower near the school around 7:24 a.m. on the day of the incident.

RELATED: Suspects got away with nothing during fatal robbery attempt at Lakewood car wash

Gettler's parents also said their son drives a Saturn Aura that has damage from a prior accident that prevents the driver's side from being opened.

Based on security video, detectives said they believed the damage seen on the door of the suspect's car was significant enough to prevent it from opening.

Credit: Thornton Police

Detectives learned that Gettler's car was equipped with a GPS, and they located it at a Home Depot in Parker around 11:15 a.m. Monday. Parker officers responded and found Gettler inside the car.

Adams 12 Five Star Schools released the following statement on Tuesday.

We are thankful for the partnership we have with Thornton Police Department. Their immediate response on Friday and strong presence within our community in the days that followed helped foster a safe and secure feeling. This was also a good reminder that we all have a role in our community's safety. It's through the relationships our schools have between staff, parents, students, law enforcement and the community that helps to keep students safe.

According to the affidavit, Gettler was the suspect in a similar incident in Lakewood in July 2020. In the incident, the then 15-year-old victim went for a run from her home to an elementary school and while near the school's playground she reported that the man grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth.

She reported that the man tried pulling her clothing off but said she was kicking at him and he ran off, the affidavit says. The case was inactivated prior to charges being filed, according to the affidavit.

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