A 68-year-old man has been charged with raping his eight-year-old step-granddaughter at least thrice right in her school premises in San Francisco. The man, though, denies the charges.
Pedro Hernandez man used to take lunch to the girl in the second grade in Sanchez Elementary School in the Mission District regularly. He would even taken part in school activities and other parents knew him well, though his "overly affectionate" behaviour did raise some eyebrows.
On June 4, a school staff noticed the girl was missing from the schoolyard, and the old man was found with the girl in a stairwell.
Immediately the police was called, but Hernandez left the place hurriedly. He was arrested nearly a week later at a homeless shelter at St. Bruno's Catholic Church in San Bruno.
Investigators say a surveillance camera captured the sexual acts. Police described the evidence as "overwhelming." They believe this was not the first incident.
"But perhaps a systematic and over a period of time, abuse, sexual in nature, that is taking place," said San Francisco Police Lt. Mikail Ali.
Hernandez, who is being held on $2 million bail, pleaded not guilty Thursday morning in San Francisco Superior Court to seven felony counts, including continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child, and oral copulation or sexual penetration with a child. The last two charges are punishable by life in prison.
A judge also granted a restraining order forbidding Hernandez from visiting or contacting the alleged victim, the family's Bernal Heights home and the school. Hernandez's case returns to court for a scheduling hearing on July 8.
Prosecutor Marianne Barrett said Thursday that Hernandez, who collects recycling for a living, had been staying with the girl's family at the time of the alleged assaults. He is believed to be originally from Mexico and federal authorities have requested an immigration hold.
According to Barrett, Hernandez is believed to have assaulted the girl at least two other times at the school. Police are now reviewing earlier surveillance footage.
Following the latest alleged incident, prosecutors obtained a $2 million warrant for his arrest and police alerted state, U.S. and Mexican authorities.
According to Barrett, Hernandez had told his family he was headed back to Mexico. Police were able to nab him in San Bruno by tracking his phone records, she said.
"I'm just very happy that we were able to apprehend him before he fled to Mexico," Barrett said.
Two of Hernandez's adult children are accused of harboring him after the warrant was issued, and are facing charges of being an accessory to the crime after the fact. They are being held on $100,000 bail each.
Hernandez's newly appointed attorney Jose Umali said after court Thursday that it was difficult for him to comment on the case, having just met his client and begun to review the evidence. He agreed the charges are "very serious" but said Hernandez "seems like a very gentle person."