SPRING TWP., Pa. - A 14-year-old girl's trip to a public restroom turned into a violent encounter with a knife-wielding man who was hiding inside, police said.
The random attack happened Tuesday night inside the Barnes & Noble bookstore at the Broadcasting Square shopping center in Spring Township.
"I can't recall, in the eight years that I've been here, anything similar to this," said Chief Bryan Ross, Spring Township Police Department.
The girl told police she was inside one of the stalls when she looked up and noticed what appeared to be a cell phone being used to take a photo of her.
The girl then looked on the floor toward the adjacent stall and noticed what she believed were the feet of a man wearing flip-flops, according to court documents. She then opened the door of the stall she was in and encountered the unknown man, later identified by police as Dustin Cornelius, standing in front of her with a knife, police said.
Cornelius told the girl not to make any noise and directed her to the handicap stall, where he ordered her to face the wall with her hands on the wall and proceeded to put his hands under her shirt, police said.
"It's horrible. I never heard of something like that happening here," said Lorena Abrigo, a Broadcasting Square shopper from Exeter Township. "It's very shocking."
The girl then turned, striking Cornelius' hand, and approached the stall door, but Cornelius grabbed her and, still holding the knife, walked her back to the wall, where he tied the girl's wrists behind her back with a zip-tie, according to court documents.
"Obviously, he put some thought into what he was going to do," Ross said.
The girl then observed blood on one of Cornelius' hands and asked if he was OK, police said. At that point, they said the suspect became apologetic toward the victim and claimed he was under the influence of drugs.
Cornelius then cut the zip-tie from the girl's wrists, but he still refused to allow her to leave the stall until her boyfriend's mother entered the restroom to check on the girl's well-being, police said.
Cornelius quickly left, but he was apprehended by responding officers a short time later, telling them, "I can't believe what just happened," according to the court paperwork.
"We don't know what the outcome would have been if the mother had not entered the bathroom," Ross said.
Cornelius,19, of Tulpehocken Township, Berks County, was charged with unlawful restraint of a minor, false imprisonment of a minor, simple assault, and harassment. He was taken to Reading Hospital for treatment of a laceration he suffered during his struggle with the girl, police said. He was then committed to the Berks County Jail on $25,000 bail.
The girl was not physically injured during the incident, other than marks on her wrists from the restraints, police said, adding that she had never seen or met the suspect prior to the incident.
Barnes & Noble declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing police investigation.
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