UPDATE: Philadelphia Police have released a photo of a person of interest in the case. Read the press release here.

She was just going to school. Instead, she was put through hell.

"It's about as bad as you get," Special Victims Unit Capt. John Darby said yesterday at a news conference about the 11-year-old girl, who had just dropped off her younger sister at a day-care center in Kensington when a man forced heer into a back yard and raped so ferociously that she had to undergo surgery.

The girl and her sister had been walking along Kensington Avenue near Orleans Street when a man began to walk beside them, Darby said.

About 8:20 a.m., the girl escorted her sister inside the day care and according to one witness, the man tried to follow them inside but was turned away by a staff member, police said.

When the 11-year-old left the day-care center and continued on to her school, Russell H. Conwell Middle School, the man again approached the girl but this time, he threatened to shoot her if she did not walk with him, Darby said.

He forced her to walk about six blocks to the rear of a residence on Westmoreland Street near Emerald, where he repeatedly raped her, police said.

It was unclear whether she escaped or the attacker fled, but the girl was found crying and bleeding a couple blocks away by a pedestrian, who called police to Cornwell Street near Kensington Avenue at 9:43 a.m., Darby said.

Some details weren't clear yesterday because the girl was in surgery at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children. Her attacker is not alleged to have beaten her - the surgery was required because of the ferocity of the sexual assault, Darby said.

"Quite frankly, right now, the account we have is from a very traumatized young girl," Darby said.

The attacker was described as a light-skinned Hispanic man in his 20s, about 5-foot-8 with a thin build, black hair and some facial hair. The girl described him as wearing a white T-shirt and black shorts with red-and-white stripes, but an image taken from a surveillance video released by police showed a man with blue shorts with black stripes.

He told the girl his name was "Alex."

"We're not quite sure if that's a real name, if that's a street name or that's a fabricated name," Darby said.

Police found a pair of silver-rimmed sunglasses at the scene, believed to belong to the man.

Anyone who was in the area and who may have seen the man, or may have seen any man with blood on his clothing, is asked to call police.

"Anyone who would attack an 11-year-old kid in this vicious manner is someone who we can not afford to have on the streets of our city - any time, at all," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said.

School district spokesman Fernando Gallard, who confirmed that the victim was a student at Conwell, said that a letter will be sent home with students today regarding the incident and that counseling will be offered to Conwell students.

James Golden, chief safety executive for the district, said additional school police mobile patrol units will also be deployed around Conwell.

Yesterday afternoon, Lisa Perez watched her daughter Samantha, 4, skip around a grassy area near where the 11-year-old girl was first approached hours earlier on Orleans Street.

Perez, 23, who lives on the street, said she's been shaken up. Her own 5-year-old female cousin was raped by an older man a year and a half ago.

"I don't understand how men could look at little girls like that," she said. "Why would they picture them that way."

William Nieves, whose front doorstep overlooks the narrow corridor where the little girl was dragged into, said that part of him believes he could have done something to stop it.

"It was a matter of timing," he said. "I usually walk through there to put out the trash in the morning, but I didn't want to bang my leg up, so I went around."

He said the slim alley is a go-to destination for drug users and prostitutes who leave syringes and condoms in their wake.

He blocked off the corridor that is next to his home with a wrought-iron gate and said he's pleaded with the city to do the same for other alleyways in the area.

Soiled leaves, trash and broken bottles led to the back yard of one home, the spot where the alleged rape took place.

He showed reporters yesterday his fenced-in back yard, with a splintered wooden gate, which he said he planned to replace in the next couple of days. He said he wasn't home at the time of the assault, but his wife, who declined to comment, was. But she didn't hear or see anything.

"I feel really bad. It's unfortunate that that happened," he said before scooting out of the alley, too upset to look into his cramped back yard.

Anyone with information on the crime is asked to call 215-686-TIPS or the Special Victims Unit at 215-685-3251. *

Staff writer Valerie Russ contributed to this report.