A Leesburg woman who was attacked by the East Coast Rapist nearly a decade ago said she is ready to confront the man alleged to have terrorized her and more than a dozen other women in four states.
“I hope he’ll face each one of us in court,” the woman said. “I want to tell him how I feel. I wonder if he would even care. I wonder if he has any remorse, if he’s sorry.”
For years, the woman and the rapist’s other victims have lived in fear that he could return. They peered suspiciously at strangers, wondering whether their attacker was among them. They worried that he was trolling for more victims. And they wondered whether he would ever be caught.
Then, last week, all that changed. Police announced that their 14-year hunt had led to the arrest of serial-rape suspect Aaron H. Thomas, 39, a truck driver and deliveryman with ties to the Washington region.
“I cried. I was happy. My stomach has been in knots,” the Leesburg woman said. “I didn’t think he was ever going to be found after so many years.” The Washington Post generally does not name the victims of sexual assaults without their consent.
Police said DNA evidence links Thomas to 12 rapes and other attacks that began in Prince George’s County in the late 1990s and continued in Virginia, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Detectives said they think Thomas could be responsible for many more attacks, including some that were not reported.
On Thursday, authorities for the first time released two photographs of Thomas. One is a current image; the other was taken in 2001, just weeks after the attack on the Leesburg woman. In the older photograph, Thomas, who was then 29, is heavier, and his face rounder than it is today. He more resembles composite sketches that victims helped police create after their attacks.
Detectives and prosecutors hope the images will prompt people who know Thomas, or people who say they may have been victimized by him, to come forward.
People who want to contact police about the case can do so at eastcoastrapist.com.
Thomas, who was arrested last Friday in New Haven, Conn., has been charged in the 2007 rape of a young mother there. Citing investigative reasons, police in New Haven had not released Thomas’s arrest photo in the week since his capture, an unusually long time to keep an arrested suspect’s image from public view.
In Virginia, Prince William police have issued a warrant charging him in the Halloween 2009 attack on three teenagers. And on Thursday, Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney James E. Plowman said his office will pursue an indictment next week in connection with the Leesburg woman’s 2001 rape.
Much about Thomas’s past is still a mystery, but he had connections to the areas where the attacks occurred. Thomas grew up in Prince George’s and went to county schools, authorities said. He has lived in Prince William and Fairfax County and regularly visited family members in Clarke County, Va., where his mother lives. Most recently, he lived in New Haven, where he has a young son.
Over the years, Thomas has had minor skirmishes with the law, including larceny and drug charges, but has not been convicted of a sex offense. In June 2001, Thomas was charged with domestic assault and battery on a woman with whom he lived in Dale City. Prince William court documents show that the woman said Thomas grabbed her by the throat and pushed her into a bathroom, breaking a window. Thomas told police at the time that he “did not grab her but they were wrestling,” court papers say.
Weeks earlier, in May, the Leesburg woman was moving out of her apartment when a man crept in and grabbed her from behind. The apartment was nearly vacant, and she had just sent her 14-year-old son to his taekwondo lesson.
The man, armed with a screwdriver, pushed her onto the bedroom floor, the woman said. He raped her, then fled with her clothes and cellphone. With her other clothes and all her bedding packed, she covered herself in the only thing she could find — Christmas wrapping paper.
The Leesburg woman said each May since then has been hard for her. But family members and friends have helped her. She said she feels for the other victims — and for Thomas’s family.
“I’m lucky that I’m a strong person,” she said. “It’s going to be there forever. When it comes to the surface, it’s painful.”
Staff writer Jennifer Buske and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.