Police ponder connections among recent attacks


A Gainesville Police unit leaves Campus Lodge apartments, 2800 SW Williston Road, late Tuesday afternoon.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 7:27 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 6:13 p.m.

For at least the third time in recent months, a Gainesville woman has been attacked or sexually assaulted with the culprit remaining at large — a series of crimes that police say is troubling.

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A Gainesville Police unit leaves Campus Lodge apartments, 2800 SW Williston Road, late Tuesday afternoon.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

Gainesville Police Department officials have not directly linked the attacks, but they note they are not ruling out any connection.

“We don’t have a reason to believe it is the same person at this point,’’ said GPD spokesman Officer Ben Tobias. “We don’t have enough of a description of this man; we don’t even know what race he is. It would be quite a jump to say this is the same guy.

“It would be very nice if they were all connected, because if we could figure out who it is and make an arrest, that would be three victims that would be helped with one arrest,’’ he said. “The more troubling (scenario) would be having multiple people doing it.”

The latest case occurred around 1:50 a.m. Tuesday at the Campus Lodge apartment complex at 2800 Williston Road when a 22-year-old woman went to her car to get some school work.

A man dressed in black and wearing a black mask and gloves attacked her as she was getting out of her car. She told police she did not see a gun but felt what she believed was a gun.

The man gagged her and tied her hands, but she was able to escape by kicking the man in a vulnerable area, police reported. She then ran to her apartment, where her roommates untied her hands and removed the gag.

Ben Tobias said a torn shirt that was used to tie and gag the woman was found and is being examined for evidence.

Officers, including police dogs, set up a perimeter around the area, but no one was found. Police are continuing to investigate.

Detectives with GPD’s sexual crimes unit and members of the special operations unit are working on the cases, he said.

“We have a covert aspect so they can go out and patrol some of these areas,” Tobias said. “We have a mixture of high profile and covert trying to be in the right place at the right time.”

Police still are searching for the culprit in an April 15 case in which a man with a gun burglarized a home in the 400 block of Southwest 10th Street and sexually assaulted a University of Florida student just after 4:30 a.m.

Police have said they believe the man entered through an unlocked rear door and attacked the woman at gunpoint. He then took two MacBook Pro laptops, an iPhone and other personal items before leaving.

Also at large is the culprit in an attempted sexual battery on Jan. 24 in Northside Park at 5701 NW 34th St. A woman told police she was playing racquetball at about 7:30 p.m. and was attacked when she went to retrieve a ball that was hit over a wall. She was cut on the arm and thigh.

As to whether UF students were being targeted in the recent incidents, Tobias noted: “A third of Gainesville’s population are students, so at this point it’s coincidental. We’re not looking at it as student attacks.’’

Even though the victim in Tuesday’s attack is a UF student, the University Police Department did not send out an alert to students and staff. In the incident last week, officials sent out a so-called “timely warning.’’

UPD Maj. Brad Barber said the university issues such warnings and emergency notifications on a case-by-case basis, “but they must involve incidents that occur on or near campus.’’

“The primary use for the UF alerts has been limited to our immediate area,’’ Barber said. “If there is a circumstance or set of incidents that occur and there does appear to be a pattern affecting university community members, we would assess that pattern and issue a timely warning as necessary.’’

He said no alert was issued after the April 15 incident because of the amount of time that had elapsed between the incident and when police were notified.

The victim and her roommate initially contacted the UPD non-emergency phone number. The call was transferred to GPD’s 911 system, and UPD officers responded to assist in the search.

On Tuesday, some Campus Lodge residents said they feel safe in the complex while others said the incident has them rattled.

“It doesn’t make me too nervous. I’ve been in worse neighborhoods,” Ayrianna Macrellis said. “It makes me feel pretty safe that Campus Lodge has gates and has security on site.”

But several other students said they were bothered by the incident.

“It definitely does freak me out a little bit. You’d think that with the gates being closed, it would be safe, but anybody could walk in,” Emily Branscome said.

“Usually the security guards are both together in their golf cart, and they are wearing all black. I would think it would be safer, since the neighborhood is so big, if one stayed at one side and the other at the other end.”

Susan Jennings, spokeswoman for the company that owns Campus Lodge, said security measures are being reviewed and that security details around Campus Lodge has been increased in the wake of Tuesday’s attack. She added that cameras are located at several locations in the complex but that none recorded Tuesday’s incident.

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