In each incident, the suspect distracted the victim before slashing her with a box cutter or razor, police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said. All the victims have been women in their early 20s or teenage girls, she said.
“The attacks do appear random,” Caldwell said. “Certainly no one would be expecting or suspecting anything like this to occur.”
The victims were each slashed in the afternoon or evening, when stores are likely to be busy, she said.
In Monday’s incident, an 18-year-old was browsing the XXI Forever store in Fair Oaks Mall 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, Caldwell said.
She felt a sudden pain and noticed that she was bleeding. The suspect had cut through her denim shorts and underwear, Caldwell said.
The teen suffered a superficial 1.5-inch wound, police said.
In all the attacks, the suspect was able to slice through at least two layers of clothing and break the victims’ skin, Caldwell said. Caldwell did not know how deep the wounds were, but she said none of the victims required hospital care.
Of the five attacks, three occurred at Fair Oaks Mall. The first incident, on Feb. 14, occurred near the entrance to the Champps restaurant, and another was reported May 16 in the Ann Taylor store, Caldwell said.
Police and mall authorities described the incidents as very “unusual.”
Robbie Stark, general manager at Fair Oaks Mall, said it is still safe to shop there. “It’s a very strange kind of happening,” he said.
Stark said the mall has turned over surveillance tapes to the police for the investigation.
“In the grand scheme of things, this is very unique,” Stark said of the incidents.
The two other attacks occurred at the H&M store at Tysons Corner about 8:30 p.m. June 18 and at the Marshalls in the Greenbriar Shopping Center about 2:45 p.m June 20, according to police.
Mai Nguyen, who used to work at the H&M at Tysons Corner, said store officials at the time of the June 18 incident did not know what to make of the victim’s report. Security officials were not able to find the attacker, and the victim was not seriously injured, she said.
“A lot of weird things happen in retail,” she said.
The suspect, who was caught on surveillance tapes, is described as a heavy-set Latino man in his late 20s, police said. He is about 5 feet 6 inches and was wearing white shorts and a short-sleeved shirt during Monday’s attack.
Caldwell said there might be other victims who have not reported similar attacks.
“This is certainly concerning, and we’re taking it very seriously,” Caldwell said. “We haven’t heard of anything like this before. This is very unusual.”