Family member Kristen McKee of Collier demands justice for nine-year-old Dezi who survived an abduction attempt Jan. 6. A crowd gathered for nearly two hours in the cold Jan. 25 near the Coraopolis magistrate's office in support of the Cornell student.
By Jamie Wiggan
A Cornell elementary student was cheered on by friends, family and neighbors as she entered the local magistrate’s office last week to testify against a man accused of trying to snatch her from a school bus stop.
The small crowd camped out in a nearby parking lot for nearly two hours during a frigid Jan. 25 morning, while a banner declaring “Justice for Dezi” hung from a construction crane high overhead. At around 10:30 a.m., nine-year-old Dezi emerged from the Coraopolis courtroom with her mother and father to a chorus of applause.
Inside the court, Magistrate Michelle Santicola upheld all six charges against the 40-year-old suspected attacker William Gorring, who will be arraigned at the Court of Common Pleas on March 17. From there, he will likely be tried for four felony counts and two additional charges of intent.
“We’re really happy with how everything went today and we’re really proud of Dezi,” said Dezi’s mother Nicole Loughner shortly after the hearing.
According to a report of the Jan. 6 incident filed by Allegheny County Police, Dezi “was standing at her bus stop [in Coraopolis] when a man approached her from behind, covered her mouth, grabbed her by the hair, and walked her away from the bus stop.” She then fought off the attacker and broke free when she saw the bus driver arriving, according to the report.
Coraopolis police apprehended Gorring shortly after and called in additional support from the county’s investigative unit.
Supporters gathered for the hearing lauded Dezi’s courage and composure that saved her from a potentially deadly situation.
“She was very aware,” said relative Cindy Witner. “She knew what time her bus was coming and she knew he wasn’t going to put her in that car.”
Law enforcement officials have already applauded Dezi’s swift reactions in public statements, and the Coraopolis Police Department plans to honor her during the borough’s Feb. 9 council meeting.
Bus driver Melissa Wickline has also drawn praise for identifying the situation and quickly ushering Dezi on board. Wickline, a Cornell graduate with children enrolled in the school, was acknowledged by Superintendent Aaron Thomas during a recent school board meeting, and was also rewarded by Dezi’s parents with a tumbler marked, “Not all heroes wear capes – some of them drive buses.”
Family and friends say they’ve been impressed with the community response from the likes of law enforcement personnel, school and borough officials, business owners and members of the public who turned out for the hearing.
“The community has shown a lot of support for Dezi and the family,” said relative Kristen McKee outside the hearing. “We just want to see justice served today for Dezi.”
While the atmosphere outside the courtroom was lifted by a swell of support for the quick-thinking youngster, some acknowledged how easily the situation could have turned out differently.
Coraopolis resident Carly Saez went to high school with Loughner in Pittsburgh, and the two reconnected recently after each later landed in Coraopolis. While Saez and her husband Noel said they were relieved Dezi was unharmed and her suspected attacker is being tried, they still feel fearful for their children's safety around their home on 6th Avenue.
Their fourteen-year-old daughter has been harassed and threatened on more than one occasion since the family moved to Coraopolis four years ago, and in each case, they said law enforcement were unable to bring substantial charges.
“We’re fine here as adults – we just worry about the kids,” said Noel Saez.
Witner said she hopes Dezi’s escape, and the resultant display of community support, can be used as a teaching moment for other school-aged children.
“I think it’s awesome [how the community has come out in support],” she said. “You have to let people know you’re standing behind her.”
– Carrie Moniot contributed reporting to this article.