Families of Chorley schoolgirls speak out after terrifying attack by man in balaclava
The parents of two schoolgirls have revealed what happened when their daughters were attacked and nearly kidnapped in Chorley.
Sophie Walsh, 11, was walking along Moor Road at around 7pm, with her friend Grace Lister, 12, a few yards ahead of her.
When Grace heard her friend suddenly cry out for help, she followed her screams to an alleyway off Moor Road.
Grace found a tall man,dressed all in black and wearing a balaclava, dragging Sophie by her hair towards a waiting car.
Grace bravely charged at the man and tried to rescue her friend.
Sophie's mum, Lisa, 31, said: "The man grabbed Sophie and dragged her into an alley near the Co-Op.
"She said he had her by the throat and was trying to drag her into his car.
"She was fighting him off as best as she could, but then he punched her in the back of the head.
"He grabbed her by her hair and dragged her to his car, but then Grace came to her rescue.
"Grace helped her fight him off by kicking him in the shins and pulling Sophie away from him.
Sophie is going to be alright but if it had not been for Grace then she could have been kidnapped
"She saved my girl's life.
"I'm so proud of them both, they're both absolute heroes for fighting him off."
The man tried to keep hold of Sophie by clutching her clothes, ripping her tights and school uniform.
As the Southlands schoolgirls lashed out at their masked assailant, the man gripped hold of Sophie's tie.
But the blue clip-on school tie came off and the girls made their desperate getaway.
The would-be kidnapper managed to snatch hold of Sophie's school bag as the girls broke free.
He then ran back to the car where it is believed an accomplice was waiting in the driver seat.
Lisa said: "They think someone else was driving because he just jumped in the car and it drove off.
"It was pitch black so they cannot remember the car. But they drove straight off."
The frightened school friends have been unable to provide a detailed description of the man or the vehicle.
They said they could only see the man's eyes because of the balaclava covering his face.
According to Sophie and Grace, the man did not utter a word throughout the assault.
Lisa added: "Sophie was absolutely hysterical. She's been frantic all night. All her clothes were torn and her tights are ripped.
"They said his breath reeked of alcohol, so much that they said it made them feel sick.
"I just want both Sophie and Grace to know how brave they were. They are such good friends, they're actually more like sisters.
"Even the police said how proud they should be of themselves. It doesn't bear thinking about what could have happened."
Grace's mum, Hayley, said the girls are strong and will "bounce back".
"I don't want this to ruin their childhood. It's a nightmare experience, they're so shaken by what's happened.
"I'm so proud of Grace for coming to her friend's rescue.
"She was not going to let her friend get taken. She is a hero. They both are."
Lisa added: "This man is still out there and who knows what he's going to do next. How can you do this to a child?
"This isn't a random attack. This man came prepared, with balaclava and gloves and he had obviously planned this.
"How can he sit there at home and plan on doing this to an innocent child?"
The school friends' terrifying encounter has quickly spread fear throughout the community.
Lisa has urged the community to be vigilant and to keep an eye out for Sophie's school tie and her brown Michael Kors shoulder bag, which has her name stitched into it.
Sophie's school bag also contained her school books and their discovery could provide vital clues as to the masked man's whereabouts.
Mums Lisa and Hayley praised the response from Lancashire Police, who they said were "out in force" within minutes of the attack being reported.
Lisa said: "We can't fault them. They were here all night, dozens of them.
"They've had the dogs out as well, searching for evidence. They've been so good with Sophie. Their response has been really reassuring."
A police spokesman said: "We are aware of rumours circulating on social media about an incident in Chorley.
"We can confirm we received a report that a man approached two girls, ages 11 and 12, at around 7pm last night (Thursday), on Moor Road, close to the Co-op, before grabbing one, punching her to the face and making off with her school bag.
"We understand that people will be alarmed and we would like to reassure members of the public that we take all reports of this nature seriously, and it is being investigated thoroughly.
"Both girls are now being supported by specially trained detectives and we have increased uniformed patrols in the area."
DI Steve Monk of Lancashire Police added: “We would urge members of the public to be vigilant, as always, but at this point the intention behind this incident is unclear.
“We are still in the very early stages of our investigation.
“We would ask anybody with information about the incident, or who was in the area at the time and saw anything that appeared unusual, to get in touch, and we would also urge any motorists who were in the area at the time who may have dashcam footage to contact us.”
Anybody with information should call 101 quoting log number 1169 of January 17 or independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.