Is it safe to run in The Swamp after dark?
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 1:33 a.m.
Once the sun goes down over The Swamp, the hazy yellow glow of the nonevent-night lights give the massive structure the feel of a parking garage. Runners, like moles, pop in and out of the shadows, corridors and gates as they alternate running the maze-like perimeter and climbing the stairs.
It was in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium only five days ago that two 15-year-old boys allegedly dragged a University of Florida student into a women's bathroom and raped her. It was about 9 p.m.
Many of the women climbing the stadium steps for exercise this week after dark were either oblivious or nonchalant about the incident.
Melissa Sides, 19, uses the stadium for cardio exercise at night. She and fellow Santa Fe Community College student, Heather Chapman, 21, said they prefer the open space of the more than 84,000-seat stadium, explaining that any time they try to run along the roadside, guys blow their horns and yell at them.
"I won't come here by myself, but I'd rather be here than out on the road," Sides said. "It's also better than paying for a gym membership."
She said that she doesn't feel particularly unsafe even after hearing the news of the recent attack. Sides and Chapman, who hit the stands at about 8 p.m. Monday, pointed to the 15 or so other silhouettes of students running bleachers in various sections of the stadium.
"My brother actually works as a security guard at the Alachua General Hospital where they brought the (alleged victim)," Sides said referring to the young woman attacked on Friday.
"When my mother heard what happened, she told me to stay away from the stadium," said Sides, who now runs with pepper spray and a cell phone.
There are no plans to beef up security at the stadium, although University Police plan to continues patrols of the stadium both on foot and bike, according to Lt. Joe Sharkey, spokesman for the UPD.
No one working in the stadium this week could remember anything like that every happening in the past. Similar incidents have occurred on other parts of campus, but not in the stadium.
Sofia Barufaldi, a 19-year-old nursing major at UF, said she didn't hear about the crime until Monday - three days after the attack took place. She seemed less concerned over the incident than Sides but acknowledged she plans to rethink the idea of running alone at the stadium.
Now a sophomore, Barufaldi admits to not only running alone at the stadium but also running alone as late as 1 a.m. The sign at the stadium's entrance shows it's open until 10 p.m. But the gates stay open all night.
"I usually try and run at least once a week. I feel safe running at night here because there's usually a lot of other people running," Barufaldi said. "Plus, with all the stairs, it's a real pretty view and a change from just running a track. I talk to my friends at other universities across the country and no other college allows the students to just come in and run. I hope they don't change that."
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