San Diego

Teen Says Man Groped Her Inside Downtown Vista Panda Express

A man ran up to a 14-year-old girl at a Vista Panda Express and groped her as she waited in line, the teenager told NBC 7 Thursday. 

The teenager said she wanted to share the story in the hope that it would give others the courage to speak up in similar situations. 

The girl said she was looking at the food behind a display window at the Panda  Express in Vista Village, the city's downtown area, when a man walked up to her and leaned in Wednesday.

The man grabbed her and quickly ran out of the restaurant. By the time she could turn around, the man was nearly out the door, she told NBC 7. He ran to his car parked in front of the store and drove off.

"I was shocked that a man his age would do that," the teen said.

She immediately called her mom and asked to be picked up.

"It's so terrifying," the teen's mother told NBC 7 "We don't even know if this person knows her, has he been watching her, was this a random thing? Do we have to worry about him showing up around her again?"

Her mother criticized the way the restaurant handled the situation. She told NBC 7, when she arrived at the restaurant 20 minutes after the incident, the manager still had not called 911.

The victim said she asked the manager to call 911 but he refused, saying their corporate office did not give permission due to privacy concerns for the minor.

In a statement to NBC 7, Panda Express denied that the explanation aligns with their company policy.

"We take the safety of our guests very seriously at Panda Express and do call the authorities if requested by our guests or if our associates see an incident."

The restaurant chain said it would do "everything we can to cooperate with the authorities as they further their investigation."

The victim said she is leaning on the stories of the women from the "Me too" movement as she tries to move forward.

The mother said the area is a popular hangout spot for local kids. A Cinepolis movie theater is located across the street and there are several popular dining spots.

She said she is worried something like this could happen again.

"There is a predator that needs to be held responsible," the mother said. "For all I know, he could have been held responsible last night, had they taken the correct steps."

She hopes parents are proactive in helping kids that experience sexual assault. 

"It really takes the adults surrounding them with as much support as possible for them to feel empowered. It is our job to empower them.," she said. "She is really brave, she is really strong to speak up and not just let it go."

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSO) is reviewing surveillance footage but hasn’t released a suspect description yet.

NBC 7 is not identifying the teenager because she is a minor is the victim of a sexual assault crime. 

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