College Park attacks bring security increase One woman raped, two assaulted in week

March 20, 1998|By Timothy B. Wheeler and Sheila Hotchkin | Timothy B. Wheeler and Sheila Hotchkin,SUN STAFF

The University of Maryland, College Park is beefing up security, and worried women are walking with escorts after dark in the wake of two assaults and a rape reported on campus in the past week.

Last night, about 80 students and staff turned out for a vigil in front of the student union to vent their anger over the incidents.

"All the women on campus are frightened," said Kristy Wright, a Student Government Association vice president.

"No one's walking alone," she said. "We never should have walked alone in the first place."

University police are looking for "at least two" suspects in the three incidents, Maj. Michael McNair, deputy chief of operations, said yesterday.

He declined to give further details but said the reported rape of a freshman March 13 near Fraternity Row appeared to be unrelated to two assaults on graduate students.

In the latest attack, a 51-year-old graduate student told police she was accosted in a parking lot behind Memorial Chapel just after midnight Wednesday.

She felt something touch her back and heard a man tell her to get in her car, said Cpl. Mary Brock, campus police spokeswoman. The student spun around, sprayed her attacker with pepper spray and ran to a telephone to summon police. No one was apprehended.

On March 13, a 20-year-old freshman reported that a man grabbed her, struck her and raped her as she was walking behind Fraternity Row. Two nights earlier, a 28-year-old graduate student told police she was thrown to the ground and kicked in the face after parking her car in the street near graduate housing. Her attacker fled when a passer-by called out.

The two graduate students gave similar, detailed descriptions of their assailants, but the rape victim could only say her attacker was 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 185 pounds.

McNair said police have "some significant leads" on suspects. Police released a composite sketch yesterday based on the description from the graduate student involved in the most recent attack.

University officials are urging women students and staff to take precautions. Yesterday, students seemed to be heeding the advice: Requests for the university-sponsored escort and ride services soared.

"I never thought it would happen," said junior Erin Wolff, who asked a friend to accompany her on the two-minute walk between her dormitory and the dining hall Wednesday night. "I'm not going to go out alone anymore."

Divya Soni's parents called her twice in a day, asking her not to go anywhere alone. The sophomore business major, who said she never felt unsafe on campus before, is considering enrolling in a self-defense class.

Sexual assaults by strangers are uncommon at College Park, where date rape has been a greater concern, said Brock, the police spokeswoman. One rape and four lesser assaults on women were reported last year.

The university last year installed a $250,000 network of 25 video cameras around campus, with another 23 cameras in the parking garage by the football stadium. The system did not pick up any of the attacks, and McNair said yesterday that seven more cameras will be added to focus on campus parking lots. The TTC school also plans to increase staff guarding gates on three major driveways entering the campus.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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