An Escondido man suspected of sneaking into the bedrooms of children and sexually assaulting them could face 300 years to life, the San Diego County District Attorney (DA) said.
Gilbert Andrew Chavarria pleaded not guilty to 22 felony charges on Monday, including assault during a burglary, burglary, lewd acts on a child, to possession of child pornography.
According to officials, Chavarria, dubbed "the Creeper," broke into homes in Escondido and San Marcos during early morning hours in June and July of 2013 to sexually assault children. He would apparently cut pieces of their pajamas during the assaults.
Many of the incidents happened while parents were sleeping in the same room, according to officials. Most of the victims were teens, though the youngest victim was five years old.
On June 23, 2013, a window screen was cut open and a man shined a light onto a 13-year-old's face, then tried to reach inside and touch her.
One week later, police said a man forced entry into a residence in the Oak Hill neighborhood of Escondido and sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl. He apparently cut holes in the victim's pajamas and underwear.
Investigators said another similar incident took place July 7, 2013, when a man assumed to be "the Creeper" forced his way into a home through another cut screen. He then sexually assaulted a 12-year-old and 15-year-old girl and cut holes into their clothing, police said.
The fourth incident of forced entry, sexual assault and cut clothing took place shortly thereafter. A 5-year-old girl and a 9-year-old girl were victims in that case.
Investigators were able to recover evidence and DNA from a family member that linked all of the crimes to the same individual, pinning down a suspect that lived in the vicinity and had been acting suspiciously.
Officers said when they tried to make contact in August 2013, he fled. There were no more "creeper" cases that they knew of after the foot chase.
Officials then submitted the DNA evidence to the California Department of Justice for the Familial DNA Testing Process. On February 5, 2015, the Sheriff's Department and Escondido Police were notified by DOJ officials that Chavarria was their suspect.
Officers conducted a surveillance sting and pulled DNA from a discarded item for testing. Eight hours later, the Sheriff's crime lab matched the DNA from the item to the DNA recovered from the crime scenes.
Police said they do not have an exact number of victims yet, and are seeking the public's help in finding others. Anyone with information about Chavarria or possible victims are urged to call the Sheriff's Department at (858) 565-5200 or the Escondido Police at (760) 839-4722.
Chavarria will next appear in court on Sept. 22 for a readiness conference. He could face 300 years to life if convicted.