Fairfax County police have discovered a lot of evidence at crime scenes over the years, but a hockey puck?

In a struggle with a sleeping woman in the predawn darkness Sunday morning in Merrifield, a suspected rapist dropped a hockey puck from a junior league team in Wichita Falls, Tex. The woman successfully fought off her attacker, and he fled without his warm-up jacket -- and the puck.

Her description of the man matched those given by three other women in the neighborhood who were attacked around the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station in the past five weeks.

"It's the first time I'm aware of that a hockey puck has ever been left at a crime scene" in Fairfax, said Officer Bud Walker, a police spokesman. He declined to say whether police had obtained DNA from the items.

Walker said police do not believe the items were left behind as "trophies or taunts." He said the puck was dropped in a struggle with the 26-year-old victim, who lives in an apartment complex along Gallows Road. The jacket was dropped or pulled off the man, Walker said.

Police don't know whether the assailant is using the Metro to enter or leave the neighborhood, he said. The first three victims had been walking away from the Dunn Loring station, but Sunday morning's attack was not related to the train system, Walker said.

"For that reason, we want all women in the Merrifield area to be on alert," he said.

The first attack occurred the night of Sept. 21. A 22-year-old woman walking north from the station past Stenwood Elementary School and was grabbed and raped in woods near the school, police said.

The next two attacks occurred Oct. 7 south of the station, near the Merrifield at Dunn Loring Station apartments. One woman was grabbed and knocked down but her attacker ran when she screamed. An hour later, in the same neighborhood, a similar-looking man forced a woman into a secluded area and raped her, police said.

Residents held a forum at Stenwood Elementary on Thursday to discuss security with Fairfax and Metro police, Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) said. About 30 residents attended, said Smyth, who said she "would've expected more."

She said streetlights and garage gates had been an issue in the Gallows Road complex, whose developer has been in default, Smyth said. But the gates have been closed, and the lights are being fixed, she added. Smyth said police indicated that the suspect might have ties to the area.

State Del. Stephen C. Shannon (D-Fairfax), said: "There's definitely a sense in Dunn Loring that everybody needs to be very alert. We've seen an increased police presence in the past several weeks, and it's important that the police maintain this presence until they catch this guy."

The suspect is described as a black man in his twenties, 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 6 inches tall, cleanshaven with short hair and a thin build. In the first incident, he wore a white T-shirt with a logo that included the words "Divers Club" and "Puerto Vallarta, Mexico," which was not left behind.

A hockey puck inscribed with "Wichita Falls Rustlers Hockey" was left behind.