Fourteen years ago, a University of Tampa student was walking home after drinking at the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a parade celebrating the fictional pirate José Gaspar, when a stranger offered to walk her back to the dorms.

When they arrived at her dorm room, the man raped her, police say. Then, he disappeared.

Police leads went cold almost immediately. DNA evidence collected at the time did not match any known offenders, and the woman did not know the attacker.

“We ran into a few dead ends in the case back in 2007,” Assistant Tampa Police Chief Ruben Delgado said at a news conference last week.

The case might have remained a mystery if Jared T. Vaughn had not voluntarily provided a sample of his DNA to a public genealogy database, according to police.

Law enforcement agencies’ use of public genealogy websites, such as Ancestry and GEDmatch, has been questioned in recent years by privacy advocates concerned with the amount of information officials can glean from the DNA profiles stored within the databases. Some states, including Maryland, have even barred police from using those databases to solve minor, nonviolent crimes. But many previously unsolved murders and sexual assaults have been closed in recent years using DNA samples voluntarily provided to private companies.

In the 2007 case, the man allegedly raped the student in the shower at her dorm, WTVT reported, and fled when the woman’s roommate came home.

The roommate said the man appeared “shocked and nervous as if he did not expect someone to arrive at the apartment,” a police report said, WTVT reported. “She went into the bathroom with the victim and closed the door, and never saw the male again.”

In 2020, as part of an effort to reinvestigate cold cases — especially sexual assaults and other violent crimes — police began reworking the case. Police first tried to run a familial search to see whether a close relative might have been added to DNA databases collected by law enforcement agencies since 2007. The search did not return any matches.

In January 2021, investigators turned to their last hope to solve the case and submitted the suspect’s DNA to be compared to genetic profiles in the GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA databases.

“Genetic genealogy is only used in cases where all leads have been exhausted,” Mark Brutnell, a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said at a news conference

The DNA found at the crime scene matched a sample from Vaughn, who now lives in Virginia, that had been provided to those databases in the years since the rape occurred, Delgado said. Police obtained a search warrant to get a new sample of Vaughn’s DNA to test it against the crime scene samples. The results showed a 1 in 700 billion match for Vaughn’s DNA, police said.

“Our success depends on information found in public genealogy databases, where participants must, and this is important, they must opt in for law enforcement matching,” Brutnell said.

Vaughn, who is now 44, voluntarily surrendered himself to the Orient Road Jail in Tampa on June 16.

“It has taken 14 years for resolution in this case, but it was something important to us, and something important to the victim,” Assistant Chief Delgado said. “The victim now can have some closure in her life.”