MIAMI — A man accused of sexually assaulting seven girls and women was recaptured late Monday, a week after escaping from jail by rappelling down the building on bed sheets, police said.
Reynaldo E. Rapalo, 34, is accused of terrorizing the city’s Little Havana and a nearby neighborhood called Shenandoah in 2002 and 2003. At the time of his escape, he was awaiting a February trial that could have sent him to prison for life.
Police chased him down on foot on a southwest Miami street after a tipster called in a description of Rapalo near a video store, Miami-Dade Police Director Robert Parker said.
“He is a very dangerous individual and we are very glad to have him back in custody tonight,” Parker said.
Rapalo and another inmate escaped Dec. 20 after climbing through a vent in the ceiling of a cell and onto a sixth-floor roof, police said. The vent was supposed to be locked, but it had been pried open, and bars blocking it were cut.
Officers scoured neighborhoods, airports, train stations and ports for Rapalo, a Honduran native, and guards were assigned to victims who still live in the area.
Police have said the sawlike tools used in the escape may have been smuggled in, and Rapalo apparently plotted the breakout for months.
“We suspect that he had some help,” Parker said. “We took some things off of him — he still had the blade that he used to escape.”
'He’s cocky and smiling'
When confronted by officers, Rapalo said he was a “homeless guy from Nicaragua, that he was worried about immigration” in an attempt to mislead them, Detective Alcides Velez said.
“The first time he was crying, very remorseful. Now he’s cocky and smiling,” said Miami Police Chief John Timoney, who had joined the search for Rapalo on his bicycle. “But guess what, we got him.”
Rapalo was being held for questioning and was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, Commander Linda O’Brien said.
The other inmate, Idanio Bravo, who was also awaiting trial on sexual assault charges, was captured outside the jail after breaking his legs when he jumped.
The so-called Shenandoah rapist was the target of a massive manhunt following attacks on girls and women ages 11 to 79. Police say Rapalo, who was arrested in September 2003, was linked to the rapes by DNA evidence.
In addition to the alleged sexual assaults, he is also accused of attacking four other women and girls.
Community in fear
During the original search for the rapist, more than 120 men, most of them Hispanic, were stopped by Miami police and asked to volunteer DNA samples, a tactic that was denounced by civil rights activists. Sketches of the suspect were posted throughout the city.
The rapist terrified women and the parents of young girls across the Little Havana area. Three were young girls who were attacked in the span of four weeks. An 11-year-old was raped as she arrived home from school.
Rapalo had been living in Miami on an expired visa.
After his escape, the director of the Miami-Dade Corrections Department ordered that all vents at the jail be welded shut and that lighting be improved.
Two corrections officers were also placed on paid administrative leave. They were not accused of being involved in the escape, and they have not been disciplined.
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