By HEATHER BRADY & ANDREA NEALON
An anonymous donor independent of the University of Mary Washington is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information leading to the successful arrest and conviction of a man who sexually assaulted a Mary Washington student early Friday morning on the third floor of the parking garage.
The assailant, described as a white male between 20-24 years old and 5 feet 5 inches tall, is reported to have light green eyes and light-colored hair in a ‘buzz’ style, according to University Police.
He also has a “tribal” tattoo on his upper left arm, and a soft, high-pitched voice. He was wearing a green t-shirt and blue jeans at the time of the assault. Police believe he attended an on-campus event earlier in the day.
The assailant sexually assaulted a UMW female sophomore resident at approximately 2 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 3, after approaching her on the south end of the third level of the UMW parking deck.
University officials said the incident on Friday is not related to an assault back in the summer on the path around the track at the Battlegrounds off Hanover Street. The $10,000 dollar reward for the recent incident and a smaller award for the Battlegrounds incident are from separate donors, according the school officials.
According to Teresa Mannix, director of news and public information at UMW, the student left campus shortly after the attack and drove into Stafford County, an area where she said she felt “very comfortable.” She reported the incident to the Stafford sheriff’s office.
“She was taken to the hospital and her case was referred to the Fredericksburg Police Department, since the crime happened here,” Mannix said. “The Fredericksburg Police Department then notified UMW. Immediately after learning about the crime, the UMW Police Department and the Fredericksburg Police Department worked together to gather evidence.”
Mannix said that the student was taken to the Mary Washington Hospital on Friday morning, and was released later the same day. The state of her condition was not released.
“Immediately after the incident was reported to UMW, patrols around campus were increased by UMW, Fredericksburg, and State Police,” said Mannix. “Also, a security guard has been hired to patrol the parking deck every day from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. indefinitely.”
The security guard has been contracted with Securitas, a company independent of the UMW Police Department. Mannix also commented that the office of Public Safety and Community Services is looking into the “best practices” overall for securing parking decks.
“The administration is committed to doing everything it can to ensure that students and campus visitors are safe when using the deck,” said Mannix.
When construction for the parking deck began in 2006, original plans called for the installation of security cameras. However, the office of the Virginia attorney general advised against them. A representative for the attorney general questioned the legality of filming UMW students and visitors, and the University decided against cameras.
“The issue is threefold,” said Rick Hurley, executive vice president for administration and finance. “Cameras can not capture every nook and cranny in a parking deck. It is also believed that their presence gives a false sense of security to users of the deck. And, to really be effective as a safety measure, staff would have to be hired to watch the monitors on a 24/7 basis.”
He also cited the high cost as one of the factors involved in the decision not to install the security cameras.
“We had to take all perspectives into consideration,” he said.
Mannix confirmed that the University is now reviewing other sources for security cameras. By investigating how other buildings with security cameras approach logistical and legal issues, the University hopes to determine a plan for campus surveillance.
The security feature praised as the most effective in the aftermath of the attack is the UMW Emergency Alert System. This system utilizes texts and e-mail to alert students to any kind of emergency on campus, including assaults, weather warnings, and other potentially dangerous situations that could develop on campus.
“UMW students and employees were sent an e-mail about the incident just before 4:30 a.m. on Friday morning, and a second e-mail with more information was sent at 5:13 a.m., followed by a text alert at 5:26 a.m.,”Mannix said.
“The delay in the notification can be attributed to the fact that the UMW Police Department was not notified of the crime until 3:30 a.m.,” said Mannix. “It took time to gather all of the information from the other two police jurisdictions, the Stafford and Fredericksburg departments, in order to send the information to the UMW community.”
The UMW 2008 Annual Security Report shows a drop in the number of forcible sex crimes in dormitories and residential areas over the past three years, from 2005 to 2007.
The report shows that since 2005, the number of forcible sex crimes occurring in non-residential areas of campus, such as academic buildings and parking lots, has remained at a consistent rate of one per year.
“Incidents such as [these] are unpredictable,” Hurley said. “The best we can do is to continue to stress the importance of everyone taking responsibility for their safety, meaning [you should] know your surroundings or call for an escort service. We patrol areas of the community that surround our campus and the city police patrol all others.”
The Friday morning assault is the only attack that has occurred in the parking deck since it opened in 2007, according to university officials.
Susan Knick, the assistant vice president for public safety and community services, and James Snipes, UMW chief of police, were both unavailable for comment. Police Dispatcher Christopher D. Cash declined comment on the ongoing investigation, saying that the police department was instructed not to release any more information other than what was sent out to students and faculty in official e-mails.