Gainesville, University of Florida police discuss recent campus attacks

Police hold news conference Monday afternoon

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – One day after the fourth assault of a woman on or near the University of Florida in the last nine days, Gainesville and campus police held a news conference to share what information they have and how they are reacting to keep women safe.

"These women are getting grabbed from behind, they're being thrown down violently, they're being attacked and this guy is running- when there's a struggle," said University of Florida Police Chief Linda Stump.

Police said the women were all either 20 or 21 years old and were grabbed from behind by a tall, white man -- and all of them fought off the attack.

None of the women were sexually assaulted, but police are considering the attacks attempted sexual assaults. They said in one case, the attacker got the woman's underwear off, and in another case, he was trying to get her clothes off.

"It's definitely nerve-racking-I think it's causing a lot of anxiety in a lot of girls," said Lexi Bajalia, who was walking with her friends on sorority row, minutes from where one of the attacks happened.

Police said there is no commonality in the appearances of the women, three of whom are college students. Police have not been able to get good enough descriptions to put out a composite sketch.

On Monday volunteers walked women from Library West to their cars.

The first attack happened about 9:30 p.m. Aug. 30 at 1824 NW Second Ave. A 21-year-old woman was grabbed from behind and punched in the head. The attacker got her underwear off but was chased off by a good Samaritan who heard the woman's screams.

The second attack happened about 1 a.m. Aug. 31 at 500 SW 13th Street. A 20-year-old woman was grabbed from behind and pulled into some bushes. The attacker was trying to get her clothes off when a witness saw what was happening, and he fled.

The third attack happened about 3 a.m. Friday at an uncertain location on the UF campus. A 20-year-old woman was punched in the face, but fought off the attacker and ran for help.

The fourth attack happened about 8:45 p.m. Sunday on campus between McCarty Hall A and B. A 21-year-old woman was grabbed from behind, and she kicked the attacker in the groin and he fled.

Officers said a reported sexual assault of a woman in northwest Gainesville last week was in no way related to the other four attacks.

"This is a pattern of repetitive behavior," Stump said. "These incidents are happening very quickly on campus. In a heartbeat he can be gone, he could be blended in."

Police said the attacker in Sunday's incident was a white man, about 6 feet 1 inch tall and 185 pounds, wearing a black hat and had no facial hair.

The attacker in the first two incidents was described as a white man in his 20s, at least 6 feet 3 inches tall, between 200 and 250 pounds, with brown hair, a brown beard, and wearing a blue shirt and orange cargo shorts -- a description similar to that of a man who tried to sexually assault two women near campus over the Labor Day weekend. (Surveillance photo of possible suspect released by Gainesville police)

Police are still actively investigating the other incidents and have increased patrols at the university during the night hours.

"None of these women have been sexually assaulted," Gainesville police spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said. "There have been attempts, we believe, to get to that point. But by some sort of intervention, none of these victims have been sexually assaulted."

Police are asking for the public's help in identifying any suspicious people.

"We are coming after you," Stump said. "We hope you don't strike again. We understand your method of operation and we are coming after you and we are not going to stop."

Students were expected to hold a rally Monday afternoon, pledging to not walk alone at night.

Andrea Aguilar's sorority put new rules out so that no one walks alone.

"Girls need to stay in groups together, they can't leave the event early, alone," Aguilar said. "They have to have at least three girls walk with them and walk back."

The University of Florida offers several programs to help students with self-defense techniques and nighttime escorts throughout campus.

"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our students," said UF Vice President for Student Affairs Dave Kratzer.