This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 24 with information from the U.S. Marshals Service.
The rape suspect from Massachusetts who was apprehended at a home on Eldridge Avenue in Lawrence Township earlier this week was once arrested for attempted murder in Massachusetts, authorities have confirmed.
Byron Garcia, a 30-year-old North Andover, Mass., resident who recently fled that state amid accusations he had raped a young girl, was arrested Wednesday (Feb. 22) by U.S. Marshals at a home where relatives live located directly next door to and just one block from .
Lawrence Township records show the house is owned by the church. A voice mail message left this morning at the church for Msgr. R. Vincent Gartland has not been returned.
John McKenna, principal of Saint Ann School, on Thursday sent a letter home to parents that read:
“On Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, an arrest was made at a home in close proximity to Saint Ann School. We want you to know that at no time were any of our Saint Ann children in harm’s way.
“We are making you aware of this situation to assure you of the safety of your child. Please know that your child’s safety is of the utmost importance to all of us at Saint Ann’s, and measures are taken on a daily basis to ensure a safe and protected environment for each and every student entrusted to our care.”
The girl allegedly raped by Garcia is just 4 years old, according to Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Schroeder.
The child rape charge and subsequent manhunt are not Garcia's first troubles with the law.
Garcia was arrested in 2009 for armed assault with intent to murder and illegal discharge of a firearm within 500 feet of a building, among other related charges, after police alleged he fired multiple shots at a car in Lawrence, Mass. No one was injured in that incident.
That case against Garcia was eventually dismissed, however. There had been speculation that the incident was gang-related, as gang violence had spiked during that time. And the alleged victim and witnesses in the case failed to show up to court multiple times, according to Carrie Kimball-Monahan, spokesperson for Essex County (Mass.) District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.
Garcia remains in custody at the Mercer County Correction Center here in New Jersey, awaiting extradition to Massachusetts.
"At this point, all I can say is that a North Andover [police] investigation resulted in a warrant for his arrest for sexually assaulting a minor known to him over a period of time," Kimball-Monahan said. "I do not know when he will be extradited to Massachusetts at this point."
Deputy U.S. Marshal Schroeder said police in North Andover, Mass., launched their investigation earlier this month into the alleged sexual assault of the 4-year-old victim and on Feb. 13 issued an arrest warrant for Garcia on charges of rape and indecent exposure involving a child under the age of 14.
"Detectives Daniel Cronin and Robert Barter are the investigating officers," North Andover Police Chief Paul Gallagher said. "They obtained an arrest warrant pursuant to their investigation. Mr. Garcia fled the area and, working with D.A. Blodgett's office and Massachusetts State Police, they believed he was in New Jersey and contacted New Jersey authorities. North Andover police feared he would return to his native country of Guatamala."
Massachusetts State Police contacted the New Jersey State Police with the information that Garcia might be hiding out in Lawrence Township, and the job of going after him was passed Wednesday morning to the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, Schroeder said.
Created in 2002, the task force is made up of personnel from the U.S. Marshals Service, Mercer County Sheriff’s Office, New Jersey State Police and about 100 other law enforcement agencies.
Task force members immediately went to the house on Eldridge Avenue in Lawrence Township where, according to Schroeder, several of Garcia’s relatives – including his father and stepbrother – live. He said Garcia was found hiding in a bedroom closet.
“He was ordered to come out of the closet. He did not and was physically removed,” Schroeder said.
The Wednesday morning raid and capture of Garcia took place as many parishioners were attending Ash Wednesday services at the church next door. Many people driving along Eldridge Avenue, either en route to the church or leaving it, slowed down to look at the large gathering of heavily-armed law enforcement personnel wearing body armor surrounding a handcuffed Garcia.
Garcia was treated at the scene by a Lawrence Township ambulance crew for minor injuries suffered in his alleged struggle with task force members. He was charged with resisting arrest and also possession of fraudulent government documents that included a fake social security card, resident alien card and passport, according to Schroeder.
This story was reported by Bryan McGonigle, editor of the North Andover (Mass.) Patch, with additional material contributed by Lawrenceville (N.J.) Patch editor Michael Ratcliffe.