Three Howard County police officers patrolled Lake Elkhorn yesterday morning, searching for clues to a sexual assault that happened Monday. Meanwhile, nearby residents expressed shock at the crime and tried to understand how it could have occurred in this quiet park that is a magnet for people in the village of Owen Brown.
Police came to the Columbia park looking for someone who could identify or describe the assailant in the case. But after dozens of interviews yesterday morning, they had turned up only one lead. County officer Mark Joyce said a woman may have seen the assailant at the park a couple of weeks ago, but added that her description was "real rough."
A 28-year-old woman was walking along a footpath around the lake around 11 a.m. Monday, when a man with long, black hair pushed her to the ground from behind, said county police Sgt. Gary Gardner. There were no witnesses, he said.
The man threatened the woman with a sharp object, which police would not identify, and assaulted her. The woman, who lives in Columbia, received several superficial cuts on an arm and a leg during the assault, Sergeant Gardner said. She went to Howard County General Hospital, where she was treated for the injuries and released.
Officer M. A. Bender, who rode his motorcycle along the path yesterday, described the man as between 5 foot 10 inches and 6 feet tall with hair stretching down to the small of his back.
Lake Elkhorn lies in the eastern section of Columbia and is a recreation spot for many in Owen Brown.
On weekday mornings, mothers push their children in strollers along the path that winds for several miles around the lake. Along the route, fishermen sit on docks waiting for bites from rainbow trout and bluegill.
As people arrived at the park yesterday morning, officers approached with news of the assault and questions. The people reacted with shock and disillusionment.
I'll "bring my Mace around next time," said a woman pushing a child asleep in a stroller.
"You can't even go out in the middle of the day," said Melanie Alofs, who walked around the lake with her two sons and a friend. Ms. Alofs loves the park, especially riding her bicycle alone in the evenings along the path's cool, shaded stretches.
She says she won't do that anymore.
The assault occurred along the path across the lake from the boat dock in one of the park's more wooded areas. Sergeant Gardner said it lasted no more than several minutes.
"Anybody could be hiding in the trees," said Christine Alvarez, 23, who said she was jogging around the lake at the time of the assault.
"It's not hard to imagine at all," she said.
Ms. Alvarez, who works the night shift as a mental health counselor, says her solo runs around the lake are over.
"From now on, I'll try to come with a friend or run near my house," she said.