Police were close to arresting the suspect Wednesday, but say he got away.
In the past three weeks, 42-year-old Rafael Velez has alleged assaulted two women at knifepoint on the top floor of an office building while doctors and lawyers were working on the floors below. Officials say Velez served 16 years in prison for sex assault and kidnapping, and was only recently released.
"That's shocking, I hope they catch this guy, I really do," Paterson resident Mark Miller said.
Miller was walking with his wife Tracey at night after Paterson police Velez sexually assaulted two teenagers, one on Monday and one on September 14.
The assaults happened on the sixth floor of 129 Market Street, an historic office building in downtown Paterson less than half a block from City Hall.
"I don't want to walk around Paterson alone because I don't want anything to happen to me," Tracey Mauz said.
Police say Velez threatened the 18- and 19-year-old girls with a knife and told them he would kill their families if they reported the sexual assaults.
"He has targeted young, attractive women and then asked them to come walk with him," Paterson police Lieutenant Richard Reyes said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Paterson police surrounded 18 Market Street after receiving a tip that Velez worked at a textile factory there.
Police evacuated the building and searched for three hours, but Velez apparently escaped.
"We searched the entire location and we brought in the K9 unit and we were unable to locate him," Reyes said.
Police are also investigating whether Velez is also responsible for the sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman on McBride Avenue near the Great Falls on Monday.
Police are charging Velez with two counts of aggravated sexual assault, two counts of kidnapping, two counts of possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose and two counts of tobbery.
The suspect is described as a tall, light-skinned Hispanic male. Police say he approaches his victims with a very calm and sincere demeanor before he grabs them and puts a knife against them, forcing them to go with him.
Velez remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous.
The Paterson Police Detective Bureau is also investigating the possibilities that there may be other victims that have not come forward.
They encourage any other person that may have been victimized or may have information of a person that was victimized to contact the Paterson Police Detective Bureau at 973-321-1120.
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