CONNEAUT — Publicity of the search for Joshua Gurto, the Conneaut man wanted in the rape and aggravated murder of a 13-month-old girl, has resulted in a flood of calls and tips, Conneaut Police Chief Michael Colby said Monday.
“We’re getting lots of calls, and there have been hundreds to the U.S. Marshal’s office,” he said.
Meanwhile, authorities believe the 37-year-old Gurto might be far removed from Coneaut, Colby said.
“He is thought to be out of this area, possibly south,” he said.
The U.S. Marshal’s Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force has peppered the region with images of Gurto, Colby said. As a result, law enforcement has received calls from locations from a wide area.
“The word is out,” Colby said. “There are billboards (with his likeness) in Cleveland and Columbus. All the marshal’s offices are helping to find him.”
Gurto is wanted in the death of Sereniti Jazzlyn-Sky Blankenship-Sutley, who died as a result of blunt force trauma on the morning of Oct. 7 at a Clark Street apartment. Gurto is the boyfriend of the child’s 22-year-old mother, but is not the father of the victim, police have said.
On Thursday, the U.S. Marshal’s office released an image taken Oct. 13 by a surveillance camera inside a Girard, Pennsylvania, store that showed Gurto in the company of another man. The pair might have been driving a gray, Ford F-150 pickup truck, according to the agency.
A message left at the U.S. Marshal’s district office Monday afternoon was not immediately returned.
At least twice last week, including Sunday, there was buzz on local social media sites that Gurto had been caught. But they were false alarms and he remains on the loose, Pete Elliott, Ohio’s northern district marshal, said Sunday.
Gurto’s name appears many times in Conneaut Municipal Court records, with the bulk of the offenses — including sexual imposition, assault, disorderly conduct and criminal damaging — occurring more than 10 years ago. The most recent case, unauthorized use of property, occurred last year, according to court records.
“We’ve had a few scrapes with him,” Colby said. “We’ve dealt with him a few times.”
Gurto is a graduate of Conneaut High School who has worked at a local industry, Colby said.
The child’s death remains an open investigation, Colby said. Charges could be filed against people who help Gurto evade capture.
“Anybody found to be aiding him is looking at criminal charges,” Colby said.
Gurto is described as a white male about 5 feet-10 inches tall who weighs 145 pounds. He has tattoos on his forearm and a deformed right ear and misaligned jaw.
“(Gurto) has very distinctive features,” he said.
A $5,000 reward has been offered by the NOVFTF for information that leads to Gurto’s capture. People with information regarding Gurto’s whereabouts can contact the Conneaut Police Department at 593-7440 or 593-7423 (for anonymous tips); or the U.S. Marshal’s office at 1-866-4WANTED or text keyword WANTED and tip to 84711 (tip411).
The case has taken an emotional toll on the department, Colby said. Counselors with Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification recently met with officers involved in the case, he said.
Cases involving children are often draining for police, Colby said.
“Kids are defenseless,” he said.