CHICAGO — A deaf and mute felon from Belmont Cragin has been charged in a brutal December Northwest Side sexual assault that badly injured a teen girl and rattled a community, authorities said Sunday morning.
Luis Alberto Pantoja, 25, of the 5500 block of West Wrightwood Avenue, was arrested Friday afternoon and later charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated criminal assault, aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, police said.
Pantoja was caught after an investigation by Chicago police and the Great Lakes Fugitive Task Force of the U.S. Marshals Service, police said. A weapon was found at his home, said Sally Daly, spokeswoman for State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Pantoja was due to appear in court Sunday, but Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil postponed his hearing until Tuesday so a sign-language interpreter could be found. He will remain in custody until his hearing.
The 15-year-old girl was walking southbound in the 2400 block of North Long Avenue in Belmont Cragin on the morning of Dec. 17 when she was attacked by an "unknown male," police said after the incident.
At a tense community meeting a few days later, police Supt. Garry McCarthy vowed to "catch this monster."
On Sunday, McCarthy gathered with law enforcement officials and Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) to announce charges in the case. According to Gary Yamashiroya, commander of the Area North detective division, the 15-year-old girl is still in the hospital, but is up on her feet.
"Everybody knows she was in really bad shape," he said. "Her and her family are taking it day by day."
The manhunt for Pantoja took a positive turn when police were able to place the time of the attack at about 5:25 a.m. — at least an hour earlier than police initially suspected. The new timeframe allowed for interviews with additional witnesses who could possibly identify the attacker in a line-up, as well as a cross-check of Pantoja's whereabouts at the time.
He was identified after police matched DNA collected on the scene with Pantoja's existing DNA in a national database, McCarthy said.
Pantoja's DNA was entered into the database after a 2007 prior felony, a traffic crash during which he was driving a stolen vehicle and charged with failing to report the death of another individual in the crash.
Pantoja is deaf and mute, according to an arrest report. During the attack, he allegedly struck the victim multiple times, fracturing her skull, court documents said.
On the day of the sexual assault, Mike Klockowski said he found the teen, bloody and barely conscious, soon after he woke up and went outside to sweep snow from his backyard. She was on the ground near his backdoor, not far from a couple of plastic snowmen.
The girl's pants and shoes had been removed when Klockowski found her lying at his doorstep, he said. Her backpack was among a few articles found among tracks leading from the street through his gangway.
There were "smears [of blood] near the doorbell. I'm guessing she was trying to hit the bell," Klockowski said later Tuesday, referring to the heavy blood marks and handprints on his back door.
Police "tell me she's in bad shape," he said.