COVID-19 face mask provided DNA to solve 2018 child rape case, police say

KING CITY, Calif. — DNA swabbed from a California man’s face mask, which he was wearing to protect himself from the coronavirus, has led to his arrest in connection with a 2018 child rape, authorities said.

Leonardo Ramirez Jr., 28, of King City, was booked Monday on charges of rape by force and lewd or lascivious acts with a child, according to Monterey County Jail records.

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King City police officials said officers were called Feb. 3, 2018, to a home to investigate the sexual assault of a girl. King City is located on the Salinas River, about 250 miles north of Los Angeles.

“At the time of the initial investigation, the suspect’s identity was unknown, but a description of the suspect was developed,” police officials said in a news release. “In addition, a press release was issued notifying the public of the crime and seeking assistance in locating and identifying who may have committed this crime.”

The case went cold but detectives with the Major Crimes Unit, a collaboration of the King City and Greenfield police departments, continued working the case and trying to identify the man who assaulted the girl.

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Ramirez became a person of interest in the case earlier this year, authorities said in the news release.

“MCU personnel arranged to meet with Leonardo Ramirez to discuss an unrelated matter at the King City Police Department,” the news release said. “When Leonardo Ramirez arrived, he was offered a disposable mask to comply with the ongoing Monterey public health order as investigators were to be in close proximity as they spoke.

“Upon receiving the mask, Leonardo Ramirez discarded a mask he had been wearing, which MCU staff collected at the conclusion of the interview.”

The mask was sent to the California Department of Justice for DNA testing, police officials said. Genetic material found on the mask matched DNA evidence from the girl’s rape.

Ramirez was taken into custody Sunday afternoon.

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King City police Capt. Keith Boyd told KSBW in Salinas that Ramirez confessed when questioned about the assault.

The news station reported that King City detectives have been praised for their quick thinking in using a consequence of the deadly pandemic to catch an alleged child rapist.

“Sneaky, creative, yeah, but that’s our job to try and find ways to make the community safer, and by doing this we were able to take someone who really is a predator off the street,” Boyd told KSBW.