A 30-year-old man tried to drag a petite 13-year-old girl out of a Dollar General on Tuesday. The could-be kidnapper started a "tug-of-war" over the girl with the child's mother as she desperately tried to save her daughter, said Citrus County deputies.
The brazen attack was caught on a security camera just before noon. Although the surveillance video has no audio, an off-duty sheriff's deputy said he could hear the screams outside the store at 2560 N Trucks Ave. in Hernando, a town north of Inverness in Citrus County.
Authorities released Tuesday's 911 call between a dispatcher and a Dollar General store manager.
"A customer was in here and he tried to grab a child," the manager tells the dispatcher.
Deputies said Craig Bonello, 30, of Inverness grabbed the girl and held her in his arms as he sprinted toward the store's exit. The mother was able to catch up and latch on to her daughter.
Bonello eventually let go of the girl and ran out the front door — just as deputy Jonathan Behnen was getting out of his patrol car for a quick shopping trip.
"The individual may have gotten away yesterday" if not for Behnen, said Sheriff Jeff Dawsy. "The real concern is what would have he done the rest of the day and today as he searched for another victim?"
Bonello said he's "done this before," Dawsy told reporters Wednesday. The sheriff's office has not been able validate those claims, but did search his home. They have not found any additional victims.
Deputies at the scene Tuesday said it's rare to see a kidnapping attempt during the day in a store full of people.
"In my 10 years on the road, I have never seen anything like this," said Sgt. Craig Callahan in a release. "He truly intended to abduct this child right in front of everyone in the store."
Deputies were also shocked — but thankful — Behnen showed up at the right moment, by chance.
Behnen was returning from a trip to court with his patrol car and in full-uniform when he stopped at Dollar General with strict instructions from his wife. He needed to pick up cleaning supplies.
"When I first saw him run out the building, I thought it was just a shoplifter," Behnen said during a Wednesday news conference.
He saw the panicked store manager, who told him the man tried to steal a girl.
Behnen used his car to block in Bonello's vehicle next to a delivery van and then ordered Bonello to come out of the car. Behnen was eventually able to get Bonello into cuffs after he initially refused and drove the car slightly back and forth.
The mother and daughter, though rattled, were uninjured, according to the sheriff's office. Investigators said their names would not be released.
The girl and her mother told deputies they had never seen or spoken with Bonello before. Deputies said Bonello had been arrested several times in Citrus County. His other charges are mostly misdemeanors, but he was charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer in 2009, deputies said. He was most recently arrested for trespassing in February, they said.
He told detectives he was at the Dollar General, admitted it was "where the incident occurred" and said he did not know the girl or her mother, according to an arrest report. He would not tell police what he planned on doing after the kidnapping, the report said.
Bonello was charged with child abuse and kidnapping with intent to commit a felony, the sheriff's office said Wednesday. He was being held in Citrus County jail without bail.
Bonello is not listed as a sexual offender or predator.
"This was a chaotic scene with a lot at stake," Commander Buddy Grant said in a release. "This is obviously someone who needs to be behind bars. He won't be getting out anytime soon to do this again."
Contact Sara DiNatale at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sara_dinatale.