Ann Arbor mayor says investigation into 5 recent attacks on women is high priority
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said an investigation into five recent attacks on women in the city, including two rapes Monday, is being treated "with the highest priority."
Police Chief Barnett Jones can have "whatever resources he needs in the way of overtime" to get to the bottom of the case, Hieftje said.
Hieftje said police have briefed him on a number of strategies being employed in the investigation, but declined to discuss specifics. "They're doing everything necessary," he said. "Everything that can be done to get this under control."
Jones could not be reached for comment Friday.
Detectives are investigating five attacks in four days, including two rapes downtown Monday that occurred 22 hours apart. In each case, women walking alone were targeted late at night or early in the morning. In all five, the height of the attacker is similar. In two, the description of the attacker is the same. Earlier this week, police suggested a possible serial rapist scenario, but since said they have nothing linking the attacks other than that women walking alone were apparently targeted at random.
Heather Leh, 28, of Fenton, who has been staying with friends in Ann Arbor, said in light of the attacks, women can't leave a party or bar on their own.
"It's horrible because you want to have your independence," she said. "I think women just have to use the buddy system, because obviously he sees people are alone."
The attacks occurred in a little more than a 72-hour span.
About 10:10 p.m. July 15, a 21-year-old Ann Arbor woman was walking near Thompson and East Liberty streets when a man grabbed her around the neck, police said. The woman resisted, broke free and was not injured. The attacker was described as white, 29 years of age, 5 feet, 7 inches tall, 165 pounds, with a medium build.
Fifty minutes later, a man grabbed a 19-year-old Ypsilanti woman in the 400 block of North Division Street near Community High School and attempted to pull her into a secluded area, but she got away. Then, about 2 a.m. Saturday, a man grabbed a 22-year-old Ann Arbor woman from behind in the 900 block of Greenwood Avenue, lifted up her dress and fondled her before she broke free, police said. In the North Division Street and Greenwood Avenue attacks, the man was described as 5 feet, 6 inches tall with an olive complexion. He had no facial hair and was wearing a zipped-up black hooded sweatshirt and khaki cargo pants.
The most serious two attacks occurred Monday. About 12:40 a.m., an 18-year-old Ann Arbor woman was pulled into an alley and raped in the 700 block of South State Street near the University of Michigan. In that case, the man was described as white, between 5 feet, 6 inches and 5 feet, 10 inches tall, with brown hair and brown eyes. He was wearing a green T-shirt and khaki cargo pants.
And between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. Monday, a man followed a 26-year-old Ypsilanti woman into an elevator in the Liberty Square parking structure and raped her. The victim didn't go to a hospital. She came forward Thursday, calling a tip line to report the attack after seeing media attention about the other assaults, police spokeswoman Lt. Renee Bush said.
Barbara Niess May, executive director of the SafeHouse Center in Pittsfield Township, which offers support for victims of sexual and domestic assault, said reporting sexual assaults can be difficult. Often, victims fear people will blame them for not doing enough to protect themselves, she said. When someone's assaulted, she said, people must be willing to listen.
“I commend the folks for coming forward and reporting (the assaults)," she said. "That must have been a very difficult thing to do. Stay strong, you’ll get through it and he’ll be held accountable.”
Niess May said the SafeHouse Center's anonymous 24-hour phone line offers victims a place to call for advice or help. Victims are encouraged to report crimes, she said, but everything spoken about will remain confidential. “We have counselors, we have legal advocates who can help explain the system that they would wind up being in,” she said. “It’s difficult, but it’s also something that folks can get past.”
Ann Arbor police said they are working closely with University of Michigan police and disseminating information to neighborhood watch groups.
University police have stepped up patrols on and near Central Campus, particularly in the late night and early morning hours, spokeswoman Diane Brown said. Police are reminding people to be aware of their surroundings, walk in pairs and stay in well-lit areas.
The Downtown Development Authority and Republic Parking have been posting sketches of the suspect in the first of Monday's two rapes in all downtown parking structures. Republic Parking also is increasing the frequency with which its managers patrol the parking structures on foot and in vehicles.
Graydon Krapohl, who heads the neighborhood watch effort for the Lower Burns Park Neighborhood Association, sent an email to members with information on the recent attacks. He continually monitors crime in the city and said his goal is to make sure his neighbors have the necessary resources to stay safe. “We border some of the area where some of the events have happened,” he said. “What we try to do is make sure people are aware of what’s going on. If people are aware, they are less likely to put themselves in a position to be a victim.”
Jerry Baber, 57, of Pinckney, a maintenance supervisor who often works downtown, said the attacker is simply looking for the most vulnerable targets. "I do hope they catch him and he gets what's deserved," Baber said.
Crime Stoppers is offering up to a $1,000 cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man responsible for the first of Monday's two rapes. Anyone with information can call the police department's tip line at (734) 794-6939 or Crime Stoppers at 1 (800) SPEAK UP.
- AnnArbor.com staff writer Heidi Fenton contributed reporting for this article
Lee Higgins covers crime and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at (734) 623-2527 and email at firstname.lastname@example.org.