By Daniel Silliman
Clayton police have been receiving reports about a strange man in a small, black car behind Morrow Middle School since May, but it wasn't until two girls called 911 that police could catch the suspect.
"There have been other reports," said Sonja Sanchez, spokeswoman for the Clayton County Police Department. "They all had a similar vehicle description. A small, black car... These two girls took off running in two different directions, and they were able to get a full tag number. When we ran it, we got a hit."
The two girls' quick reaction and thorough descriptions led police to arrest 44-year-old Robert Antonio Baker on Wednesday on a charge of enticing a child for indecent purposes. Police allege the man was attempting to prey on girls between the ages of 12 and 14, behind the complex of three schools on Maddox and Old Rex Morrow roads in Clayton County.
"He parks his car in the area and he sits there and he waits for girls," Sanchez said.
Police said the man offered to pay, and offered to buy things for the young girls, sometimes even giving out his name and cell phone number and telling the teens to "call if they wanted to make some money."
When interviewed by detectives, Baker gave a "very willing admission," Sanchez said, and he told police he had approached five or six girls, as they walked to school.
About 350 students walk to Morrow Middle School daily, according to Charles White, spokesman for the Clayton County Public Schools. Police are looking for other children who may have been approached by Baker, asking them to come forward. Anyone with information about Baker is asked to call Detective Joanne Southerland at (770) 477-3855.
Though the investigation is ongoing, police do not know of any students who were physically harmed.
"We haven't had any type of confirmation that he's assaulted anybody or had sexual relationships with anybody, thank God," Sanchez said.
The school system heard reports of the man in the small, black car last month, but only had sketchy and inconclusive information, White said, and decided not to alert parents.
Following the 44-year-old's arrest, the school held "an extensive presentation for students on being aware of their surroundings, walking in groups and having a heightened sense of awareness," White said.
Police and school officials are pushing parents to talk to their children, encouraging them to be safe. School Principal Greg Curry sent a letter home with students on Friday, outlining safety tips for parents. A pre-recorded phone message is scheduled to go out to the homes of area high school and elementary school students over the weekend.
Sanchez said the two teens who reported Baker on Wednesday are examples of what children should do when approached by a stranger.
"They ran," she said. "Run. Run to an adult and call 911 immediately. Try to get as far away as quick as possible and call 911 or get your parents to call 911 ... and, if at all possible, get a description and license plate number."
Sometimes, according to police, children approached by strangers in strange ways don't report it to adults. They may leave the area, but don't tell a parent or a teacher and leave the possible predator on the street.
"We want the community to be aware of these types of situations, so they can make their children aware," Sanchez said. "Help us keep these bad guys off the streets."
-- Staff writer Curt Yeomans contributed to this report.