Off Duty Officers Think Fast to Save 13-Year-Old From Sexual Assault

On Fridays here at the MLN Law blog I like to take time to explore the brighter side of life. Today I want to call attention to two heroes who bravely saved a young girl from potential sexual assault at Stone Mountain Park right here in Metro Atlanta.

Two off-duty police officers, Sara Thomas, a GBI agent based in Athens, and Ruth Stringer, a DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant, both just happened to be visiting Stone Mountain Park on the grey and rainy afternoon of Sunday September 20th. Also at the park were Patrick Leithead, 36, who was lurking near the bathrooms, and a 13-year-old girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Listening to their law enforcement training and instincts, the two off-duty officers both noticed Leithead, who was sitting on a bench near the restrooms, scoping out anyone who walked by.

"He was checking out everyone who walked by," Thomas told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. About this time, Thomas, who had just finished a hike down Stone Mountain, lost sight of Leithead, though not for long.

In the meantime Stringer had stepped into the women’s restroom. It was then that she saw a pair of male feet sticking out from under a stall. At first, as she told the AJC, she thought perhaps a father was helping a child, but that all changed as soon as she heard whimpering coming from inside the stall.

"I knew I could handle myself," said the unarmed ex-Marine, "but at the same time I didn't know what would be coming out at me."

Mustering her most authoritative voice, Stringer ordered the man to release the child. A teary 13-year-old girl emerged, telling Stringer that there was a man inside the stall. Stringer led the girl outside to safety, where she came across Thomas, who was scouring the area of Leithead.

About that time Leithead emerged from the bathroom and Thomas, using a Glock she had retrieved from her vehicle, was able to subdue him until someone could call 911.

Chillingly, Leithead admitted to police that he had entered the bathroom with the intention of raping the 13-year-old.

Both officers displayed presence of mind, great instincts, and a willingness to investigate a questionable situation, even when both had simply been at the park that day to exercise rather than fight crime. As Ruth Stringer later told the AJC, “You’re on duty 24 hours a day.”

Kudos to GBI Agent Sara Thomas and DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Ruth Stringer for their great police work in rescuing a 13-year-old girl from a potential sexual assault. Have a safe and healthy weekend.