Children, teen jump man for trying to kidnap friend at Leesburg mall, police say

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. — A group of teens who jumped a man they said tried to kidnap one of their friends, police say.

Tyler Rathel, 27, was arrested on several charges, among them luring or enticing a child, after he tried to grab a 10-year-old who was hanging out at the arcade inside Viaport Mall in Leesburg, police said.

The child was standing near the entrance looking for his sister when he allegedly was grabbed by Rathel, according to police. The child then pulled away and sought out his friend.

That’s when about 10 other youngsters who were looking after the victim, including an 18-year-old, jumped Rathel, then chased him across U.S. Route 441 into the plaza parking lot.

Read: Marion County mom facing neglect charges after allegedly breaking into apartment, leaving children alone inside

Nearby police saw the commotion, and went to investigate and found out that Rathel tried to recruit juveniles to sell marijuana for him, saying, “Lake County weed is bad, and Orange County weed is better,” according to an arrest report.

“If an adult who doesn’t know a child, is grabbing the kid by the arm, and trying to pull them (away), they’re up to no good,” Lt. Joe Iozzi, a Leesburg Police spokesman, said.

Though police said the children did the right thing, they urge people in the future to call them.

Alisha Watkins, a mother, didn’t know the victim, but said she is thankful he got away.

“That could have been my child,” she said. “You just never know. You just have to be very careful and you have to teach your kids the right way to protect themselves.”

Rathel was previously arrested for a DUI, court records show.





Myrt Price, WFTV.com

Myrt Price joined the eyewitness news team as a general assignment reporter in October of 2012.