Hyattsville man charged in 2 sex assaults


A pedestrian walks on the Northwest Branch trail in Hyattsville. A half-dozen women and girls have been attacked along or near the trail this year. (Bill O'Leary/WASHINGTON POST)

Police on Saturday arrested a 24-year-old Hyattsville man in connection with two sexual assaults in the Hyattsville-Mount Rainier area, and they are exploring whether he might be linked to some of the others in a high-profile spate of attacks on and around the Northwest Branch Hiker/Biker Trail, authorities said.

Edwin Xavier Rivas of the 6100 block of 39th Place is charged in a Jan. 28 attack in a Mount Rainier apartment complex and a Feb. 23 assault in Hyattsville, police said. Prince George’s County police spokesman Cpl. Mike Rodriguez said detectives are investigating whether Rivas might be a suspect in other similar crimes. The specific charges against Rivas were not immediately disclosed.

“We charged him with one here, and Hyattsville city [police] charged him with a sexual offense,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know if he’s responsible for any others. They’re looking into it right now.”

From late January through mid-April, according to police, six females were attacked, four of them raped, as they walked along the Northwest Branch Hiker/Biker Trail or in the apartment complexes, parks and neighborhoods that it connects. The attacks sparked fear and anger among those who use the sprawling network of pathways and bridges.

The incidents occurred in three jurisdictions. Along with the Prince George’s, Mount Rainier and Hyattsville police, Metro Transit Police and Maryland-National Capital Park Police are looking into the cases.

In each incident, the victim described the assailant as a Hispanic man in his 20s or 30s, between 5-foot-5 and 5-foot-8 and weighing about 150 to 190 pounds, police said. But police officials have long acknowledged that there were enough differences in the incidents to make them think they were searching for multiple assailants. With Rivas’s arrest, police indicated that they think more than one person is responsible.

Capt. Stanley Johnson, a Maryland-National Capital Park Police spokesman, said Saturday that investigators do not consider Rivas a suspect in a March 12 rape that occurred in the parking lot of an abandoned warehouse just off the trail. He said that the victim, a woman in her early 30s, looked at a photograph of Rivas and that “photographically, he didn’t match.”

But Johnson said detectives are treating Rivas as a suspect in two other attacks on the trail on March 27 and April 20. He said investigators had not yet been able to show the victims photographic lineups but would do so soon.

The two attacks in which Rivas is charged occurred early in the year.

On Jan. 28 in Mount Rainier, a man with a knife accosted a 19-year-old woman in the 3300 block of Buchanan Street and then threw her into bushes and raped her, Rodriguez said.

On Feb. 23 in Hyattsville, a man attacked a woman on Jamestown Road, forcing her into the woods, said Hyattsville Police Chief Douglas K. Holland.

Yomara Rivas, 26, said her brother had occasional run-ins with the law — once for allegedly using marijuana and another time over a dispute with a girlfriend — but she said she was surprised to hear that he had been accused in sexual assaults. She said she last spoke to him on Friday and “everything seemed fine.”

Yomara Rivas, who lives in New York, said her brother moved to Maryland from New York to pursue painting and construction jobs.

“He likes to rap, and he likes to sing, and he’s outspoken,” she said. “It does surprise me, because a sexual assault? He’s not that type of person.”

Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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