By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 4, 2009
A spate of crimes, all occurring on or near the Georgetown University campus in the past 18 months or so, typically in the hours before dawn and all following a similar pattern:
A man creeps into a woman's bedroom in a dorm or student apartment, usually through an unlocked door or window and almost always while the victim is asleep. He slides into bed beside her, or he climbs on top of her. Then he gropes her. Or worse. And when she bolts awake, screaming, the intruder leaps to his feet and runs, vanishing in the darkness.
It has happened at least 11 times, police said -- most recently this week.
The assaults are bizarre enough. But to investigators, here's what's truly frustrating:
"White male, black male, black male, Hispanic male, white male," said D.C. police Cmdr. Rodney Parks, reciting the widely varying suspect descriptions provided by victims. As Parks leafed through the reports, his voice grew weary:
"White male, 20 to 30 years old, 5-8 or 5-9, short dark hair, thin build, low voice. . . . White male, 6-2, 200 pounds, chubby, scruffy beard. . . . Hispanic male, 25, 5-10 to 6 feet, thin, olive complexion, cleanshaven. . . . Tall male, black, early 20s, medium build . . . White male, 25, muscular build, athletic, spiked hair standing straight up. . . .
"Here's one for you: Unknown Middle Eastern male."
As Georgetown students arrived this week for the start of a new academic year, it happened again, at 4:20 a.m. Tuesday in a dorm called Village A.
After sneaking in through a ground-floor window, "the suspect climbed into the bed of the complainant while she slept," campus police said in a school-wide e-mail alert. "The suspect began to sexually assault the complainant, whereupon she screamed, and the suspect left the residence through the front door, fleeing in an unknown direction."
Parks, head of the criminal investigations branch, said authorities are stumped. No one has been seriously injured, he said. But it could be only a matter of time.
"Is it a copycat?" Parks wondered. "Is it the same guy, and we're just not getting good descriptions? Is it a group of guys -- some bad prank? All of that is being considered. But we just don't know at this point. There's not enough for us to definitively say."
Classes started Wednesday at Georgetown, and amid the campus bustle on a mild, sun-splashed afternoon, a dozen young women who stopped to talk with a reporter said the incidents, although alarming, have not raised widespread fear in the community.
"Oh, yeah, 'the Georgetown Cuddler,' " said Clara Zabludowsky, a 21-year-old senior, invoking the commonly used nickname for the assailant or assailants -- a moniker that police say is inappropriately cute given the nature of the crimes.
Said Eugenia Sosa, also 21 and a senior: "For April Fools' Day, my friends knew I'd been thinking about it, so one of my guy friends was going to sneak into my bedroom and cuddle me. That's how it's being taken, I think -- like it's not that serious."
Echoing Zabludowsky and Sosa, senior Elizabeth Mongan, 20, said, "I guess we're more apt to lock our doors and windows now, but we do that anyway." As senior Meagan Karenina, 20, put it: "It's just a regular safety thing. Common sense."
Parks said the "endearing" nickname suggests that the crimes "are something to be looked at lightly or trivialized," which worries investigators. "There have been various levels of assaults," he said. "Some have involved groping. Some have involved more aggressive touching. Some have involved the guy exposing himself. Some have involved attempted intercourse."
Not all young women at Georgetown are blasé about the incidents.
"Oh, I'm terrified," said Katherine Everitt, 17, a freshman. "I'm really scared. And I live on campus, so I'm not as close to the places where it's happened off campus. But I'm still really locking my door. Like, even when I run out to the bathroom, I'm really nervous."
Tuesday's incident occurred just four days after Everitt moved to Georgetown from her home in Los Angeles. "Before I came, I heard about 'the Cuddler,' " she said. "It sounded like a joke, like some guy comes in and lays down next to you or whatever. . . . Now the whole reality of it comes into effect, and you don't know if it's a student or who it is."
While detectives search for a suspect, the university urged students to keep their doors and windows locked "and be mindful of their personal safety."
"The safety of our students is a top priority for us," Georgetown spokesman Andy Pino said in a statement. "In addition to the [D.C. police] investigation, we've taken steps to enhance campus safety, including the recent hiring of additional public safety officers to step up patrols in and around the campus. We are asking everyone to be vigilant."
Meanwhile, police keep searching.
"We have no fingerprints, okay?" Parks said. "Then we try to get a composite sketch. But we haven't been able to effectively do that because of the various descriptions, or because of diminished lighting, or because the complainants were [sleep-] impaired, or because it happened so quickly, they didn't get a good look at the guy."
"We're looking at everything," he said. "We really are."