A former Palo Alto High School student who played running back on the football team and once tried to join the Marines was behind bars Friday on suspicion of kidnapping a 17-year-old girl off the street from his old neighborhood and sexually assaulting her.
The news came three days after the Gunn High School student was beaten on the sidewalk as she locked her bike outside her home after school, dragged into a car and sexually assaulted. Her assailant held her captive for 90 minutes before the bloodied girl managed to run from his car in Sunnyvale.
“The worst nightmare for a parent and a community and a police department is to have a young person kidnapped and sexually assaulted,” Police Chief Lynne Johnson said in announcing that 20-year-old Todd David Burpee had been arrested. “You can imagine the fear a crime like this, especially in a pretty quiet and peaceful community like Palo Alto, causes in parents and young people.”
Burpee was arrested about 10:30 p.m. Thursday as he waited with his girlfriend in the drive-through lane at a Wendy’s restaurant in San Jose, police said Friday.
Burpee’s last known address was in San Jose, but he apparently has been bouncing from one residence to another recently, police Agent Dan Ryan said. There is no indication he knew the victim of Tuesday’s attack, although he lived in the same neighborhood as the girl until about six months ago, investigators said.
Burpee played on the football team and ran track for Palo Alto High during his sophomore and junior years. He expressed an intention to go into the Marines after graduation in 2006, according to an article that June in the student newspaper.
He contacted the Marines in November 2005 about joining but failed the armed services aptitude test in December of that year, Marine Capt. Victoria Kelsall said Friday. The test covers topics including vocabulary, paragraph comprehension and mathematics.
“He didn’t receive the scores he needed to join the Marine Corps,” Kelsall said.
Palo Alto police said they had no previous contact with Burpee. He is being held in Santa Clara County jail on suspicion of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping and two counts of sexual assault.
There was no clear motive for the attack, and Burpee may have psychological issues, Ryan said.
“He’s broken,” Ryan said. “His outlook on life isn’t the same as you would have in another human being walking down the street.”
Jason Fung, who coached Burpee in track and football at Palo Alto High, called the arrest “really shocking.”
“He was always a good kid in my eyes,” Fung said. “I never felt intimidated. I never felt awkward around him. … He was always polite to me.”
Burpee wasn’t a straight-A student, but he had to have at least a 2.0 grade point average to play sports, Fung said.
Burpee’s parents attended his track meets and football games, and his siblings were active at their schools, Fung said.
The case struck a chord in the community and among police, who set up a checkpoint the day after the crime on the block where the girl was abducted and handed out flyers with a sketch of the assailant. Police also used an automated emergency phone system to alert residents to the abduction and then the arrest.
Police gave few details about what led to Burpee’s arrest, but the sketch apparently was key. When Officer Eric Bulatao saw it, he went to detectives with information that proved crucial in the case, Ryan said.
The victim was grabbed off the street as she was locking her bike after arriving home on Arastradero Road near El Camino Real after 3 p.m. Tuesday, police said.
The assailant came up behind the girl, pushed her down and slammed her head repeatedly on the concrete. The attack occurred out of sight of traffic on Arastradero, a main thoroughfare, police said.
The man then dragged her into his car, drove her to an undetermined location and sexually assaulted her, police said. Authorities said earlier in the week that the girl was raped, but they would not give details of the attack Friday.
“She was horribly assaulted,” Ryan said. “I just want to leave it at that.”
The girl was still in the car 90 minutes later as the man was driving on the 500 block of Fair Oaks Avenue in Sunnyvale. When the car stopped, the girl was able to jump out, run down the street and flag down a motorist. Several drivers saw her “obviously traumatized and bleeding” but did not stop, Johnson said.
Fred Burgener was the Sunnyvale resident who finally helped the girl. He said he had been stopped at a red light when he saw her running toward him, blood flowing from her mouth.
“I got out of the car and asked her if someone was chasing her,” Burgener said. “I couldn’t communicate with her at all. She just insisted on getting in the car. … Once inside, she just said, ‘Faster, faster.’ ”
The girl was released from the hospital Thursday.
“She’s been the bravest person on this planet,” Ryan said. “He won’t do this to anybody else. Nobody else needs to worry about this guy.”