You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 3:50 p.m.

Sexual assault near Old West Side chips away at sense of security in 'peaceful' Ann Arbor neighborhood

By Kyle Feldscher


A 20-year-old woman was sexually assaulted on South First Street near W. William Street Tuesday morning. Police said the assault may be related to 6 other attacks that occurred earlier this summer.

Melanie Maxwell |

Previous story: Police chief: Ann Arbor sex assault could be related to 6 previous attacks

The 400 block of South First Street is a fairly quiet, residential area on the edge of Ann Arbor’s downtown that has been described as one of the safest areas of the city.

Early Tuesday morning that sense of security took a hit when a 20-year-old woman was attacked and fondled by an unknown man — an incident police say could be related to 6 previous attacks during the summer.

Ann Arbor City Council Member Mike Anglin, 5th Ward, said the sense of safety in the community may be giving residents a reason to be less alert for potential crime.

“Because we have such a peaceful community, people are less alert to the environment around them and they’re more trusting of the environment,” Anglin said. “With a down economy, we are going to have more crime increases, it’s just a nature thing. But this is really a crime of violence against people … I’m sorry to hear this happened.”

Ann Arbor has become the focus of national attention during the past 2 months after the city saw a rash of sexual assaults in July.

With the latest attack, the random attacks move from the area near the University of Michigan’s central campus to the western edge of downtown.

Carsten Hohnke, the other council member from Ann Arbor’s 5th Ward, said Wednesday morning he had not heard the news of the latest sexual assault, but he was “disappointed to hear about this.”

Despite the continued attacks, there's an air of confidence coming from City Hall that the predator, or predators, will be caught.

Mayor John Hieftje said he’s been in frequent communication with police Chief Barnett Jones, meeting with him every Wednesday and getting updates on police activity during the periods between.

Hieftje said he’s satisfied with the police response to the sexual assaults and urged citizens to take precautions when out at night.

“There’s a perpetrator in our community and the person is going to be caught. Just be careful in the meantime,” Hieftje said.

The area where the reported assault took place on South First, south of West William, is a mainly residential area, not far from Doughty Montessori School, where children were playing Wednesday morning. Nearby is a city parking lot and the Liberty Lofts condominiums.

There were a number of people walking to and from downtown Ann Arbor Wednesday, but the hustle and bustle of downtown and the U-M campus isn’t nearly as evident as some of the other areas where attacks occurred earlier this summer.

Evelyn Adkins, a University of Michigan student who lives on the Old West Side, said she found out about the most recent sexual assault through a crime alert issued by the university. While it’s worrying that there have been so many sexual assaults reported in the past couple months, she said, it’s something that can be expected in a university town.

“In general, I feel like this is a very safe neighborhood. But things like this do happen, so I’m always very careful when I walk around, especially late at night,” Adkins said.

Adkins wasn’t in Ann Arbor during the summer and she returned to the area when school began earlier this month. She said she was aware of the attacks reported during the summer and has been taking precautions to protect herself when walking at night.

“It’s alarming that there have been so many of them, but at the same time when you have this many people in a downtown area, you just have to keep an eye out for it,” she said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Hieftje, who said Ann Arbor saw a violent string of sexual assaults in the 1990s. While it's the belief of many in Ann Arbor that they should be safe walking around city streets late at night, Hieftje said it's rare to be in a town where that much safety is a reality.

"We urge people, particularly women, to be more careful,” he said. “If you step back from it, there aren’t many communities where you expect to walk around after midnight and be safe without other people. We’re just asking people to take the normal precautions you would take in any other city.”

The sexual assaults in Ann Arbor have been a talking point for residents in the 5th Ward and have even caused some people in the area to adjust their socializing patterns, Anglin said.

He said there was a woman similar in age to others attacked this summer at the First Street Garden Inn, a bed and breakfast he owns with his wife, who told him that she left downtown before dark because she simply didn’t feel comfortable in the area.

Anglin encouraged residents in the city to keep an eye out for any suspicious behavior and to notify police if anything doesn’t seem right. He said it was sad to see the reputation of Ann Arbor come under fire as the sexual assaults continue, but the best way for citizens to help out was to be a good neighbor.

“You’re not being paranoid, you’re just being attentive to your surroundings and that’s what a good citizen should be,” he said.

This story has been updated with comments from Mayor John Hieftje

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:58 p.m.

I moved out of the OWS due to the creeps that were constantly filtering through the neighborhood looking for a " good opportunity" Actually after confronting one in my garage one night I was nearly arrested by the AAPD for giving him an unceremonious escort out. The cop did everything to make the guy out to be the victim. When I told him I was a homeowner who had a spouse with a new baby and was worried about this kind of stuff and asked him what I could do about it he looked back over his shoulder while walking back to his car and yelled MOVE! So I did. That was in the early nineties, I moved to Ann Arbor Hills and I love it.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 5:11 p.m.

"The woman was walking south about 12:01 a.m when a man walked up behind her......." then doesn't report it until 4pm? Why?


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 12:19 a.m.

jns is correct. A sexually assaulted woman experiences shame.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:49 p.m.

Shame. Some women who are raped feel shame and feel guilty if they report it because they feel it is all their fault that it happened to them. Yeah, stupid is as stupid does for walking the streets at midnite with a rapist on the loose. I wish the victim well.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 4:18 p.m.

I'm thinking about the young women who said they felt "comfortable" walking alone at night. Even if this sexual predator(s) is caught, you are NOT SAFE! Never let down your guard. Never walk alone at night. I cannot emphasize this enough. Therefore, I will share with you a part of my story. When I was 16 years of age, I was at a gas station in the evening in a "safe" area of town (Indianapolis) when five men jumped into my car, abducted me, took me to a vacant house, tortured, and repeatedly raped me...holding me for nine hours. I live with this trauma every day of my life. I know my story is extreme, but a sexual assault of any nature is extremely traumatizing to women. I don't care whether she was just groped, or the act was completed. It is traumatizing! Bad people are out there, even in the lovely city of Ann Arbor, and surrounding areas. Women should come together, and set up an escort program, so that no woman needs to walk alone at night. The number of the escort service should be posted everywhere, and women should have this number on their phones. Band together for safety. I know how young women feel. They feel it could never happen to them. It can and does. I'm also wondering whether or not the city has a rape crisis team. Carrying a weapon is a VERY bad idea. Women are often caught by surprise...and their own weapon can be used on them. Take care, ladies. Please! Take care! This is a re-post. IF this predator is caught, we cannot let down our guard. Ann Arbor is not Disneyland.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:46 p.m.

There was a news report on TV (Fox 2) with a friend of the victims who told the reporter, she "went out for a walk". I asked myself - Why go out alone after midnight? Why not take a friend? It's plain and it's simple-------- "safety in numbers". Young people think it's never going to happen to them. Well, it does.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:38 a.m.

With the subject line in my email alerting us to another attack in A2, why was there no link to an article about this extremely important and scary situation??? Get with the program, Seriously. Bongs and Thongs had a link for an article and this did not.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:22 a.m.

"If you step back from it, there aren't many communities where you expect to walk around after midnight and be safe without other people. We're just asking people to take the normal precautions you would take in any other city." Let me translate the Mayor double speak. "We're like nearly every other city in the state, so get used to it. I told you I was 'comfortable' with police and fire staff cuts. Weren't you paying attention?"

Cendra Lynn

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

I did like getting the newsletter from you in my email with sexual assault in the subject line and no link to this article in the message. Really professional. Places in the world a woman can walk do not include A2 after dark and in some places, not in the daytime. I've lived here since 1966 and since 1972 have never walked at night or in isolated areas without one of my dogs which are trained as therapy dogs but tested also as protective dogs. One night a mugger sneaked up behind us at the corner of Seventh and W. Washington (a location for other muggings). I was not aware of him until my dog's leash jerked my arm out and she missed him by inches. Bad guys, like drugs, can be anywhere. Expect them. Too bad, so sad we don't have a police force anymore. Sucks to be us, I guess.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

Did you report your attempted mugging to the police?


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 2:40 a.m.

"Just be careful in the meantime," Hieftje said. Well that's all there is to it then. I am so relieved. I didn't realize it was so simple. Thank you Mr. Mayor, now get back to the important things, your hole on 5th ave and your parking structure you put in our park. I don't suspect we will be lucky enough that his uncle is a state trooper this time. We'll just wait until a cabbie catches him.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:40 a.m.

Carsten Honke...... I'm "disappointed to hear about this" as well.....carsten What are you doing about this? Let me provide your constituents with an example where your priorities may lay..... Environmental Commission Greenbelt Advisory Commission Audit Committee Washtenaw Area Transportation Study Student Relations Committee From the top of your own friggin website....... get a clue.....


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:13 a.m.

I live on the OWS. I always am alert, as a habit, having lived in dangerous places. Walking down well lit streets sometimes just alerts a predator to your presence. I walk quietly and pay attention to my surroundings. You are never %100 safe, anywhere. 'Feeling' safe is an illusion. All one can do is take precautions to guard against being attacked. It's been over a decade since the killer/rapist Mitchell was on the loose. I'm grateful that he is behind bars for life. He was captured because of a citizen (a cabbie), alerted by a police bulletin & description over the radio, to look out for him immediately after his last attack. This is what we can do. We, as citizens need to pay attention, to look out for our community. Walk your friends home, walk them to their vehicle, on your way home, pay attention to anything unusual or out of place. Keep watch for people who are casing your home or neighbor's homes. Make a point to memorize a description of anyone who is acting suspiciously or out of place in the neighborhood. That said, I wish some of you would stop harping about a lack of police & fire presence in this city. I have actually had to call both police & fire on separate occasions within the past couple of weeks. One for a fight amongst out of towners for the night game & once to investigate a bunch of smoke that could've been a home on fire. Both times, the response was within minutes. I personally wish to commend our local fire & police personnel for their diligence in helping to protect this town's citizens. And above all remember, these same people are public union employees, the same one's that certain politicians have labelled 'leeches' and the same one's we wish to take pay away from. How much is it worth for someone to risk their life for your property or safety? Ann Arbor is a lot better than any other place I know of in this country and I have lived in many other cities & states.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:12 a.m.

The article states, "While it's the belief of many in Ann Arbor that they should be safe walking around city streets late at night, Hieftje said it's rare to be in a town where that much safety is a reality." Try Munich - my wife and daughter walked around alone at night without fear may times. Ann Arbor should try to reach this level. The notion that living in fear and a few sexual attacks per year are okay really ticks me off. Police layoffs do matter.

Tom Joad

Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 11:12 p.m.

These are crimes of opportunity. Walking alone late at night is extremely risky, especially for a woman. The OWS is quite dark, relatively few street lights. I walk down W. Washington St often at night and and am always on guard.


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 10:22 p.m.

What the police aren't telling you is that serial rapists often cross the divide into murder. Or people seem to be forgetting some of our more notorious former citizens. Be vigilant.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 2:16 p.m.

I have to agree with this one. It was not long ago, 30 or so years ago a classmate was killed on her front doorstep one early Sunday morning. Then it happened again near Pauline. Less we forget, it will happen again and it is again. Ann Arbor? This is a wake up call to start forming Neighborhood Watches again. Very said to be seeing this article.


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 10:20 p.m.

"Despite the continued attacks, there's an air of confidence coming from City Hall that the predator, or predators, will be caught." Smells to me more like a stench of arrogance. I will believe it when they catch the culprit and he is convicted.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 9:17 p.m.

Ann Arbor has NEVER been 'peaceful', we are a city with big city problems and I hate to state the obvious, but please try to send THAT message dear instead of one of a city that is 'suddenly' losing innocence! Our not too distant passed is filled with the blood of victims. Citizens living here need to be more cognizant of A2's history. Stay safe, stay vigilant.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 8:27 a.m.

How easy it is to forget the fact that Ted Bundy walked down S University. How about John Norman Collins? Sorry but life isn't a one hour epsiode of CSI or NCIS like a lot of people apparently think. Wish it was for the victims and publics sake. Like you posted Wookie that most seem to forget or not believe, this is an urbanized area with alot of people. Crime has been here and it's going to continue to be here. Sorry to all the dreamers out there.


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 10:14 p.m.

I had a similar gut reaction, well said. I immediately thought of Coral Watts, Erwin Mitchell, not to mention all of the common street crime. It's just like any big city and to think otherwise is just delusional.


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 9:13 p.m.

A lancelot, erhaps some of the decoys they use out on Michigan ave could be brought into downtown.


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 9:09 p.m.

early morning, not many out and about, let's try undercover officers. A joint effort between the city and the university


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 8:43 p.m.

My sympathy goes to the real victim of this attack, not to those worried about their property values.


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 8:01 p.m.

I live in the OWS and the last thing any of us want are violent assaults in our community let alone immediate neighborhood. The cost of home ownership in the OWS is very high based on tax-base but it is all about location, location, location. Many would argue the OWS/West Side is the bext place to live in A2 (I would prescribe to that theory) due to ease of walking downtown, great homes, sense of community/culture & general 'vibe' of the area. However, all that could theoretically change if this uptick of crime increases. If home values in this rather wealthy area dwindle based on various factors including violent crime all a lot could change. Police officers? Where are you? Oh - that's right - due to A2 being so 'safe' we do not need police. I'll refrain from tying in the issues with the fire department because, after all, houses in A2 do not burn down?