PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida (WPBF) – Florida authorities have arrested a suspect in a series of child molestation incidents where a man groped and then told a young girl he still wears diapers.
The incidents, which were captured on surveillance cameras, occurred over the past month at stores in Port St. Lucie.
The video shows the suspect standing in the baby care aisle at Publix holding a cell phone. When a mom and several children walk by, he begins following them. Police said he was surreptitiously snapping cell phone pictures.
Once the mom walks past the man, he moves toward the 6-year-old girl, reaching out and quickly touching her buttocks, according to the arrest report.
The little girl whirls around, but the suspect casually reaches for something in a bin and turns away.
However, detectives said the video also shows the suspect, following the family to the bakery, where, according to the police report, he asked the girl if she still wore diapers.
When the girl did not respond, authorities said he lifted up his shirt to show something plastic on his stomach and stated, “I still wear Pull-Ups, too."
Detectives said the video at Publix is similar to surveillance video obtained two weeks earlier at a Walmart, where a 9-year-old girl was touched by a man on the buttocks twice. Authorities believe he is the same suspect, who was lurking in the toy aisle.
Hours after those photos of the suspect aired on TV, police arrested 28-year-old Jackie Lee Wheeler on both incidents, after his father called the sheriff’s office to report his son's picture was on TV.
“Because you guys aired it so quickly… He saw himself on TV, and seeing it on TV, he panicked and called his dad and asked him "Hey, what do I do?’” said Tom Nichols with the Port St. Lucie police.
However, Wheeler's best friend says while Wheeler was in Walmart, he is not the child groper.
“If you look at the video of him on Walmart and the video of Publix, two totally different people,” said Wes Maxwell. He told WPBF’s Terri Parker that the man in the video is not his friend.
However, police said the suspect in both videos has a forearm tattoo, similar facial hair and clothing.
“The video surveillance between Walmart and Publix was viewed by detectives and we were confident the same person was groping these two children,” said Nichols.
Wheeler was arrested and charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child.