It was Valentine’s Day, and the 20-year-old Northern Virginia woman, her arms full of shopping bags, was ready to leave Fair Oaks Mall.
As she headed toward the door, she caught the reflection in the glass of man who was walking just behind her. He was carrying a yellow plastic shopping bag.
Without saying a word, the man rushed up and slashed her buttocks with a razor or box cutter. Police said it was the first of five such attacks at Fairfax County shopping malls.
“I thought he was grabbing me at first, and then I felt my skin. I was like, ‘You just ripped my leggings,’ ” the woman, who is not being identified because she is a crime victim, told reporters Thursday afternoon. “He said, ‘No, no, no — it was the bag’ and ran away really fast.”
The man seemed startled — almost nervous — that she had confronted him, she said. He darted out the door and rounded the corner of Champps restaurant.
“I didn’t even know I was cut, so I just yelled at him,” the woman said.
The woman said she sat down on a nearby bench to examine her leggings. She reached behind her, felt a stinging sensation and realized that there was blood on her hand.
“I started freaking out, and a couple minutes later, two mall security guys came out and saw me crying hysterically,” she said. She was taken to an emergency room, where doctors determined that she did not need stitches for the three-inch wound.
Earlier this week, police announced they had linked the series of seemingly random attacks, on five young women and teenage girls, that began that February evening. The suspect is described as a heavy-set Latino in his late 20s, police said. He is about 5-foot-6, and various surveillance tapes show him wearing a white wristwatch on his left arm.
As of Thursday afternoon, police had no solid leads about the man’s identity.
In most incidents, the man distracted the victim before slashing her, police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said. The women were attacked in the afternoon or evening, when stores are likely to be busy, she said.
The victims ranged in age from 15 to 25, and police think that there could be others who have not come forward, Caldwell said.
Of the five incidents, three took place at Fair Oaks Mall. Mall officials are cooperating with the investigation but declined to comment on security measures.
In the most recent attack, on July 25, an 18-year-old was browsing at XXI Forever about 5:30 p.m. when she noticed that a man behind her was bending down to pick up clothes that had fallen off a rack. She then felt a sudden pain and noticed she was bleeding. The suspect had cut through her denim shorts and underwear.
Another attack occurred May 16 in the Ann Taylor store at Fair Oaks.
The two other attacks occurred at the H&M stores at Tysons Corner about 8:30 p.m. June 18 and at Marshalls in the Greenbriar shopping center about 2:45 p.m. June 20, police said.
Caldwell said police do not know the suspect’s motives.
“It’s embarrassing, and it’s disgusting,” the first victim said of the attacks. “He’s done it a bunch more times, so I don’t think he’s going to stop. I don’t want him to do this to any other girls.”
The woman said that after the attack, she returned to the Jos. A Bank store, where she had been shopping that day. Employees there told her that they noticed a man who seemed to be watching her and followed her out, she said.
The woman said she would not step foot in a mall now without her fiance since the incident. The wound took a month to heal, she said, and she has a scar.
“I used to go shopping by myself all the time, just walk around and look at stuff,” she said. “I didn’t even know he was stalking me in the stores. I definitely wish I was more alert.”