Sexual assault case still ongoing at UI

Photo Illustration by Aaron Facemire

Photo Illustration by Aaron Facemire

By Stephanie Gomes

University police are urging students to be cautious of their safety while walking around campus due to the difficult ongoing investigation of a Dec. 14 attempted sexual assault.

According to University police, at about 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 14, a female University student observed a man who appeared to be hiding in the shadows on the southeast side of the Illini Union. The woman entered the Union briefly, and upon exiting was grabbed around the neck by the offender, later identified as the same man, near the south side of Harker Hall.

The victim struggled with the subject and was forcibly taken to the east side of Noyes Lab. The suspect told the victim he had a gun, but no gun was displayed.

The victim was then able to dial 911 and before the suspect was able to assault her further, a witness passed by and yelled at the suspect, causing the offender to flee.

The victim described the suspect as a black man, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, large build, wearing a black baseball cap – possibly with a New York Yankees logo – with a zippered black coat with white lining, and light blue, baggy jeans.

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“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack because there is nothing that really stands out on this particular suspect,” said Lieutenant Roy Acree, from the University Police Department.

Video cameras at the Illini Union were also able to capture images of the suspect which can be seen on the Division of Public Safety’s Web site.

“The pictures aren’t the best, so we’ve actually had them enhanced,” Acree said.

The pictures show a patch or dark marking on the left pant leg, text or logo on the left side of the hat and text or logo on the left side of the coat, Acree said.

The police department has also done photo line-ups, but they have not resulted in any further leads.

“We’re asking for the public’s help on this one,” he said.

With the investigation still underway, the University police are asking people to be careful, especially during nighttime hours.

“As far as we know, this person is out there still, walking around,” he said.

Sergeant Joan Fiesta from the University police department said she believes that there are certain preventive precautions students should take.

People should always be aware of their surroundings, Fiesta said. They should avoid listening to iPods and talking on cell phones, both of which causes lowered levels of awareness.

She also advised students to always let someone know where they are going and the time frame they are expected to arrive.

In an emergency call 911 (9-911 from a campus phone) or find an emergency phone, Acree said. If someone is following you, go to the nearest open business or a University building with the lights on.

“If it doesn’t feel right, then there’s a good possibility it isn’t right,” he added.

Students come to the University, see the cornfields and get a false sense of security, Fiesta said. Students have to be aware that there is city-like crime here.

“I always walk with someone at night,” said Shital Patel, senior in ACES. “In general, my friends and I are more careful now.”

Patel said she also appreciates that the University has SafeRides and SafeWalks available at night.

Fiesta is also the instructor trainer of the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) course available on campus. Classes involve a series of lectures and physical drills that teach students about situations varying from date rape to the kind of sexual assault that occurred on Dec. 14.

“When we are dealing with sexual predators, we are dealing with people who want control,” Fiesta said. “We can’t prevent every crime from occurring, but what we can do is make it harder for them to obtain their goals.”

If anyone has information regarding the attempted sexual assaults contact the University of Illinois police at (217) 333-1216. Those wanting to report anonymously can contact Champaign County Crime Stoppers at 373-TIPS.