Petworth on edge as police hunt serial stabber targeting women

When Latasha Carter leaves her job on Georgia Avenue in Northwest Washington’s Petworth neighborhood, she has a 10-minute walk to the Metro stop.

She no longer walks alone.

After D.C. police detectives came to her office and questioned employees about whether they had any clues to a series of random stabbings targeting women — the latest happening around the corner from where she works — they held a meeting and formed an ironclad rule: They must walk in pairs to go to the Metro station.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Carter, 34, who helps people find jobs through the Georgia Avenue Family Support Collaborative. “There’s also a drunken fool in the neighborhood, too, on top of the slasher. I just want to try to avoid him, too.”

Petworth is once again on edge. Only a year ago, a man walked around hitting people over the head with a claw hammer, killing a tourist before being arrested by officers who chased him down moments after his last attack. Now, a man with no discernible motive and clutching a sharp object is attacking women late at night and early in the morning.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t shock me. I’m concerned,” said Carter, who has subtly changed her mannerisms, listening to music with one earbud and stopping if she hears footsteps in order to let the person pass. “I’m just more alert.”

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier is warning women against walking by themselves while detectives try to find the one man they believe is responsible for three stabbings in Petworth and possibly another one 21 / 2 miles south in Bloomingdale.

They occurred May 5 and June 10, 14 and 19, all between 10:30 p.m. and 12:15 a.m. near the victims’ homes. None of the injuries was serious, and the attacker fled when the women screamed or a bystander showed up. The women were unsure what kind of weapon was used; one said a knife, while others described it only as a type of sharp object.

Police have a similar description of the assailant from each stabbing: a slim, athletically built, light-skinned black or Hispanic male with short, brown hair and between 5-foot-8 and 6-foot-1.

Victims recounted harrowing details to police. One woman who was accosted as she got out of her car on Emerson Street had raised her left arm to fend off the attacker, the police report says, and the man stabbed her in the forearm. He fled, leaving her with cuts on her forearm and hand and scratches on her chest, lower left side and stomach. Another woman was stabbed several times in the stomach as she opened a gate in front of her home.

Police responded to another stabbing Thursday night on Allison Street in Petworth, four blocks from an earlier attack, but investigators said it was not related. The stabber was female, and the victim was an acquaintance, authorities said. Nonetheless, the incident drew a heavy police response and frayed the nerves of residents who worried that the assailant had struck again.

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said she asked Lanier to pour “all available resources into the area.” She added: “They’re going to catch this person, who no doubt probably will be someone who needs help.”

But Bowser, who is running for mayor, questioned whether the community had been alerted to the attacks soon enough. “The connection between these crimes has been slow to get out,” she said. “They’ve got to do a better job at communicating to the area neighborhoods what’s going on.”

Bowser said that despite the fairly rapid succession of the past three incidents, it wasn’t until the fourth attack that police issued a warning.

Lanier said Friday that detectives investigating the first stabbing, on May 5 on Emerson Street, noticed when a similar attack happened June 10 on Decatur Street, both in Petworth. She said they “began looking to see if those two were related.”

The next stabbing occurred just four days later, but in Bloomingdale. She said police aren’t entirely certain that it was related because it was so far away from Petworth. But she said that the time, method and type of injuries fit the pattern.

The chief said the June 19 attack on Allison Street clinched the belief that a serial stabber was on the loose. She held a news conference that day.

“I don’t think we could have put this out any sooner,” Lanier said.

On the block of Allison Street where the latest stabbing occurred, residents are trying to make sense of it all. Yvonne Harvey, 76, awoke to the screams of the victim.

“I knew it was something really going bad,” she said, mentioning suspected drug activity in the area. Harvey lives alone, but her 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren visit frequently.

She used to walk around the block for exercise. Several years ago, she stopped walking outside at all. In the daytime, she waits until no one is around before getting into her car. At night, she does not go out at all.

Many of the retirees Harvey had counted as her neighbors have died, and their homes have filled with young people she doesn’t trust. She recalled a recent drug raid on her block.

“I always have my guard up,” she said. “Once it gets dark, I definitely don’t come out at all.”

Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

Julie Zauzmer is a local news reporter.

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