Search continues for attempted rapist

UF students uneasy after 2 women attacked Saturday

By Ashley Harding - Reporter , Adrienne Moore

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The search continues for a would-be rapist targeting young women near the University of Florida.

Over the weekend, two women were attacked within about a half-mile of each other. Police believe the same man is responsible for both attempted sexual assaults.

They said the first happened in the area of Northwest Second Avenue, and the second occurred on Southwest 13th Street near Inner Drive.

Gainesville and UF police are investigating.

Gainesville police said Monday that in the first attack, a male neighbor heard the young woman screaming and came to help her. Because of him, the would-be rapist wasn't able to complete his attack.

Many young women around campus said they're still nervous about what happened.

"Honestly, it's a bad occurrence and I just hope it never happens again," one female student said.

"It's really disturbing," student Margherita Gardini said. "It's something terrible for a girl, thinking you're not safe."

News4Jax crime and safety expert Gil Smith said it's key for students to think defensively. He said one thing students can do is use their keys as a weapon, holding it between their fingers so they can stab or scrape a potential attacker.

Smith also said it's important to make as much noise as possible if someone attempts to attack you.

"(Scream) 'Rape!' 'Fire!' anything that's going to get someone's attention toward you," Smith said. "Don't be afraid of how it looks or how it sounds. Just scream as loud as you can. Yell out whatever you can to get attention toward you."

The first attack this weekend happened in the College Park area. Police said the man punched a 21-year old woman in the face, knocking her to the ground. They said she started screaming and a man came to help her.

"He armed himself with a knife when he went to investigate," said Lt. Jeffrey Blundell, of the Gainesville Police Department. "He turned on a light, which illuminated the area where the attack was taking place. He went outside and asked the female if she was OK, and that caused the man to jump up and run away."

About four hours later, police said the same man went to Southwest 13th Street, just off campus, where he tried to pull a woman from the sidewalk and into the woods. Thankfully, she wasn't badly hurt.

While the search continues, police are asking people to be vigilant while they're out and about. They said women should use the buddy system and be aware of what's around them.

There are also emergency call boxes throughout campus. If you press the red button, the location is noted, and response time anywhere on campus is three to four minutes.
Police said several witnesses came forward, claiming to have seen the man after the attacks. Investigators are focused right now on finding out who he is.

"We don't know if he's from the Gainesville area or if, because it was a game day, he came in from an outside area," Blundell said. "But we want to identify him regardless and get this person into custody as soon as possible."

Police said they will follow up with the victim from the Northwest Second Avenue attack on Tuesday. They'll also talk to the man who rescued her. Their hope is to have a composite sketch of the man as soon as possible.

The would-be rapist is described as a white man in his early to mid-20s, between 6 feet and 6 feet 5 inches tall, at least 200 pounds, with close-cut brown hair and a close-cut beard. Police said he was wearing a blue Gator shirt.

Anyone with any information about the man's identity is asked to call police at 352-955-1818 or text an anonymous tip with the keyword GPDFL plus your tip to 274637.

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