Lynley Bilby is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Is Palmerston North child-snatcher same man who grabbed girl four years ago?

CCTV security video still of a white car on Shamrock St believed to have been driven by a man who tried to abduct a five-year-old girl. Photo / Supplied
CCTV security video still of a white car on Shamrock St believed to have been driven by a man who tried to abduct a five-year-old girl. Photo / Supplied

A Palmerston North mother who witnessed a schoolgirl taken from Shamrock St in the city four years ago says the brazen snatch bears striking similarities to Friday's schoolgirl abduction.

Childcare manager Heather Berge is stunned at the parallels between a 2011 abduction of an Our Lady of Lourdes pupil and the five-year-old who was grabbed off the street on her way to the neighbouring Te Kura o Takaro primary school.

In a horrifying brazen attack, the young girl was pulled into a car by a man around 8.30am as she walked to school with her two older sisters.

Do you more about the 2011 abduction? Email us

She was dumped across town two hours later where she was found by a 91-year-old great-grandfather driving home after dropping his wife off at a hair appointment.

It's a line of inquiry police haven't ruled out as a description is released of a man in his 50s with salt and pepper hair and an unkempt appearance driving a white older-style Nissan Maxima sedan. They believe the car and man both hold vital clues to solving the mystery of who abducted the little girl.

Mrs Berge told the Herald a man with a remarkably similar description lured another little girl into a car in front of her eyes as she pulled up to her Shamrock St office at 8.30am in 2011.

READ MORE:
CCTV footage combed
Description of abductor released
Abductor still on the loose

At the time she didn't realise an abduction had taken place until police knocked at her door.

"When I saw her it looked as though she might have known the person because she hopped in the car.

"I thought that it looked strange so I kept a note of the car and then half an hour later the police came and asked if I saw anything."

The childcare regional manager said the time of day, the description of the man and the street where it happened was too much of a coincidence to ignore.

"When they said he was an older man, the hair and the age, I thought, 'Oh my God, it sounds like the same person'."

Watch below: Great-grandfather finds missing girl:

Video

In the earlier abduction, the man plucked a 9-year-old child walking down Shamrock St at 8.30am, drove to Tiritea on the outskirts of Palmerston North, then dumped her back in the city 25 minutes later.

Police investigating the crime at the time said while there was no physical contact with the girl the man spoke to her inappropriately and made her extremely distressed.

The man has never been caught.

Mrs Berge said she had always rued not doing something about trying to thwart the abduction.

"I must admit I spent days driving around trying to spot the car.

"You wish you'd done something else.

"At the time I wished I'd hopped in my car and followed them but you don't know ... "

She said the abduction shook the local community and extra care was taken with children being supervised going to and from school.

Shamrock Street, Palmerston North, near where the girl was grabbed by a man driven away. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Shamrock Street, Palmerston North, near where the girl was grabbed by a man driven away. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Today, Inspector Sarah Stewart said police had not ruled out the possibility the same offender was behind both schoolgirl attacks.

"As with any investigation, we look into past events which may have a similar nature as part of our routine inquiries," she said.

Palmerston North police are appealing for sightings of a man matching their description in Shamrock St on Friday around 8am or in Hind Pl around 11am to contact them.

- NZ Herald

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