JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – A man broke into a 63-year-old woman's condo early Wednesday and sexually assaulted her, the Jacksonville Beach Police Department said.
According to police, the man entered the woman's home about 3 a.m. through an open sliding glass door on the second floor balcony of the beachfront condominium on South First Street, just south of Oceanfront Park.
Police released a surveillance image of the man at one of the entrances to the 7-story condo building. At the time, police said he was wearing a white thermal shirt underneath a gray hoodie, dark denim pants and a baseball cap.
Anyone in the area who may have seen anything suspicious around that time is asked to call the Police Department at 904-270-1661.
Hugh Mason, who lives several floors above the victim's condo, said he was shocked.
"It is surprising because the building is secured, but the properties themselves are not," Mason said. "So you can get up to the building, but getting into it is difficult. It took some effort for him to get up on that balcony."
Police have not released how the man got up the 12- to 14-foot wall surrounding the back of the building. News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said it's possible the attacker may have used tools to get on that second floor balcony.
"He could have used some type of rope or an extension latter to go even next to the wall," Smith said. "It's very difficult to say right now until they release that information."
One resident offered a theory as to how the attacker got up to the second level. The resident said there's a palm tree so close to the wall that it's possible for someone to climb up the tree then grab the railing. Police have not confirmed that to be the mode of access.
Police urge residents to lock windows, doors
After the sexual assault, Jacksonville Beach police reminded people to make sure windows and doors -- including sliding glass doors -- of their homes, businesses or hotel rooms are locked at all times.
"Anyway someone can gain access into your home, that has to be secured at all time, regardless of the security measures that are set up," Smith said.
In the wake of the attack, neighbor Tiny Hoogstad said she's keeping her .45-caliber handgun on her and Nimmy, her 110-pound Doberman Pincher, by her side.
"He's actually protective trained, obedience trained and bite trained," Hoogstad said. "So that makes me feel a little bit better. But I still don't have a comfort level at this point."
Another woman who lives in Jacksonville Beach said she will no longer keep her doors unlocked.
"It's crazy. And I do leave my doors unlocked sometimes when I'm running out," neighbor Belkisa Mehanovic said. "I won't be doing that anymore."
According to a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office crime map, there have only been three crimes reported in the last four weeks within a 2-mile radius of Wednesday's assault. Those included a theft case, a burglary and a murder investigation in neighboring Atlantic Beach.
Smith said don't be fooled by the perception of less crime at the beaches.
"Sometimes people think of the beaches as a very relaxed and laid back place, especially on the beach. They let their guard down, but you can't do that," he said. "You always have to be aware of your surroundings, especially this time of year when we focus on robberies and property crimes. Still, sexual assaults do occur."
There was a previous sexual assault case in late October, when Jacksonville Beach police were searching for two men who they said tried to assault a woman on the beach near the pier, but she fought back and managed to run away.
In Wednesday's sexual assault case, Smith said, the attacker likely lives in the area and knows the area very well.