The Predator in the Park
- May 1, 2001: Chandra Levy disappears. That day, Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran immigrant, doesn't show up for work.
- May 7: Guandique is arrested for breaking into a neighbor's apartment.
- May 14: Halle Shilling, a 30-year-old writer, is attacked while jogging in Rock Creek Park. She fights the man off.
- July 1: Christy Wiegand, a 25-year-old lawyer, is attacked while jogging in the park. She, too, fights the man off. Guandique is arrested 45 minutes later.
- July 2: Guandique admits to "bumping into" Shilling and Wiegand. Shown a photograph of Chandra, he says he saw her in the park but did not attack her, according to a U.S. Park Police detective.
While D.C. police focused most of their investigative efforts on Rep. Gary Condit and his relationship to missing intern Chandra Levy, they were slow to recognize another lead. It involved a man who was attacking women in the woods of Rock Creek Park.
The day Chandra disappeared, May 1, 2001, Ingmar A. Guandique, a 19-year-old illegal Salvadoran immigrant, did not show up for his construction job. Around that time, he went to stay with his former landlady, Sheila Phillips Cruz, the manager of an apartment building on Somerset Place NW. Cruz noticed that Guandique looked like he had been in a bad fight, his face battered and bruised. He had a fat lip, a bloody blemish in his eye and scratches around his throat.
Guandique (pronounced GWAN-dee-keh) had come from a hard-scrabble hamlet near the city of San Miguel in El Salvador. His father was kidnapped by guerrillas during the Salvadoran civil war, before Guandique's birth in 1981, and later executed. The son grew up in an adobe house with a dirt floor, no running water and an open pit for cooking meals. The home was decorated with family photos and pictures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary taped to pink and white sheets of plastic that served as wallpaper.
Guandique wanted a better life in America. A friend of the family lent him $5,000 to pay a "coyote" to smuggle him across the Texas border with more than 50 others. The seventh-grade dropout left home in January 2000, eventually swimming across the Rio Grande, crossing the border near Piedras Negras and arriving in Houston in March 2000. From there, he made his way to Washington to join his half-brother, Huber, and other family friends.
Within a month, Guandique began picking up day jobs on construction sites and sending small amounts of money back home. He also had financial obligations to the family that paid his way. And he had another obligation: his ex-girlfriend, who was pregnant when Guandique left and later gave birth to a boy.
In fall 2000, Guandique met a new girl, Iris Portillo. She was a tiny woman; even though she was a year older than Guandique, she looked 13. In early 2001, Guandique began to live with Portillo and her mother in their apartment on Somerset Place. The young couple took walks near the National Zoo and picnicked in Rock Creek Park. He was enamored with her. He bought her jewelry, including a ring at a Georgia Avenue pawn shop.
Guandique was having a hard time adjusting to living on the bottom rung of the American economy. He barely spoke English. He was not used to the routine: waking up at dawn, getting to the work site on time, spending the day toiling at a menial job. He struggled to pay the bills, send money home and buy the nice things Portillo wanted.
In early spring 2001, Guandique started to spend more time drinking and hanging around Rock Creek Park. He began to carry a six-inch knife wrapped in a red cloth. After finding letters from one of Portillo's old boyfriends from El Salvador, he struck her. He once bit her hard above her breast, leaving a scar, and he warned her not to stray. He would later say that Iris broke his heart.
Another time he kicked in the bedroom door of their apartment, splintering the wood. He slammed his head against the bathroom wall, making a hole in the plaster. He punched Portillo in the face. He held his hands to her throat, saying that if he couldn't have her, no one could. Finally, Portillo's mother had seen enough. She told Guandique to leave her apartment and stay away from her daughter.
At 1:15 on the afternoon of May 7, Guandique broke into the apartment of Tomasa Orellana, a neighbor on Somerset Place. He was wearing red work gloves, black pants and a baseball cap, and was carrying three screwdrivers - a poor man's burglary kit. He snatched a gold wedding band. But Orellana came home sooner than expected and saw Guandique, whom she recognized from the neighborhood, crouching in a corner of her bedroom. She screamed and Guandique took off.
Orellana called the police, who began to look for the suspect. He was 5-foot-8, 140 pounds, with black hair, deep brown eyes, a broad forehead and a flat nose that looked as though it had been broken before. When officers spotted him a few blocks away, they found the screwdrivers and the wedding band in his pockets. Orellana identified Guandique as the man in her bedroom. He was booked on burglary charges and released the same day on a promise to return to court May 29.
A week after Guandique's burglary arrest, on May 14, Halle Shilling, 30, a tall, blond, athletic aspiring writer, was taking her regular run through Rock Creek Park. Around 6:30 p.m., she started to jog from the Peirce Mill, a former flour operation, while listening to music on her yellow Sony Walkman. As she headed north toward the Western Ridge Trail, she saw a young Hispanic man sitting on the curb of a parking lot near Broad Branch Road. Unknown to Shilling, he got up and ran behind her on a trail that ran along Beach Drive. He let her run another mile or so, deeper into the park.