On Feb. 7 at approximately 4 a.m., a masked predator entered the off-campus residence shared by five New College students, located about a mile south of campus on Bay Shore Rd. “I was asleep, then somebody just plopped down into my bed next to me,” one of the victims, who asked not to be identified, said. “I was confused because I didn’t know who it was, then he said ‘don’t say anything’ and grabbed onto me … then I screamed really loud for a long time.” The perpetrator booked it.
A witness to the screams, a male housemate, got on his bike and proceeded to follow the assailant. After a confrontation in front of the Jungle Gardens, in which the man attempted to pepper spray the witness, enough details were gathered to create a composite of the previously masked face.
By then, the residents had called 911. The City of Sarasota Police Department (CSPD) responded to the scene. “[The cops] were pretty nice … they made me feel a little bit safer while they were here,” thesis student Madelyn Ringold-Brown said. “They were really serious, there were tons of people out on the street … they were circling our house with flashlights,” fellow resident and thesis student Katie Scussel added. The police also checked for fingerprints, although the burglar wore gloves, and took evidence from the home.
This incident comes in the wake of a slough of similar burglaries that have taken place in the Sapphire Shores/Bay Shore area in the past few years. The press release sent out to the Sarasota community on Friday by the CSPD states “the perpetrator is a prowler who frequents the neighborhood.” Among the many cases received by the Department each year, it is sometimes unclear whether or not certain incidents connect to one another.
“We get about 60 to 70 thousand calls city-wide each year … there’s about half a dozen [cases] that could be connected to the incident that just occurred,” Capt. Paul K Sutton of the CSPD told the Catalyst.
“Typically these are burglaries where the victim is at home at the time,” Sutton said, noting that on more than one occasion the victim has been confronted. “I don’t think theft is the motivation for these burglaries – I think it’s to attack another human being.”
“He’s pretty smart, he definitely knows what he’s doing,” thesis student Alex Fixler, who was also home at the time, explained. “He goes unarmed because that’s less of a crime, he runs if you scream and always wears stuff over his face.”
“And he knew that our door was open,” Ringold-Brown said.
“He just watches so close that he knows when you forget to lock the door, which is disconcerting to say the least,” Fixler added. “[The police] said most of the time it’s people whose bedrooms are in the front of the house, and houses where they keep the blinds open all the time.”
Fixler added that it seems like the attacks have specifically been targeted towards New College and Ringling Students. “Although it might be that that’s just what we hear about and know about,” Scussel said.
One concern the housemates had was making sure their story was disseminated to the student body. “I called to report it to the campus police and I assumed they already knew, but they didn’t know,” Scussel said. Scussel and Fixler also sent out a series of emails to the student e-mail forum, explaining what happened and cautioning other off-campus residents.
“I just know what [CSPD] tells me,” NCF campus police Chief Wes Walker explained. “Things that occur in their jurisdiction are in their jurisdiction.” Walker said that while he would like to share more information with the student body, these cases are still under investigation. “It’s one of the exceptions to the public information laws – in an ongoing investigation, they have reasons for not releasing information,” he said.
Some of the information that is unclear is exactly how many cases relate to this most recent one. “We are kind of unclear on the numbers – it seems like it’s been at least seven, probably more like nine,” Fixler said. However, as Scussel related, “it seems like it’s happened so many times now … especially with older students, it seems like everyone knows someone who this has happened to, which is really bizarre.”
Also, when it comes to defining sexual assault, the cases do not clearly connect. “There’s nothing in the legislature that has room to talk about sexual assault intentions,” Scussel said. “It has to be penetration-based, so it depends on the exact nature of the touching.” Based on this legal terminology, the most recent Bay Shore case cannot be concluded as sexual assault.
The CSPD define the serial offender as a “burglar,” one who enters into a structure with the intent of committing a crime. “The most serious form [of burglary] is entering a house that’s occupied with an assault,” Capt. Sutton explained. “That’s considered a first degree felony, and is punishable by up to life in prison.
“We’re asking people to be alert – we’re looking for eyes and ears,” the captain continued. He emphasized that if someone sees something or someone suspicious, then they should call 911 immediately for the nearest officer to be dispatched to the scene.
“I don’t want people to feel scared, but I feel like it’s a good thing that they’re on their guard,” Ringold-Brown said.
“If there’s a 50 percent higher chance of waking up with a creep in your bed, just by virtue of living in this neighborhood, you ought to know about it or be able to anticipate it at least,” Fixler added.