Search for serial rapist continues, police urge students to stay safe

One of the many emergency help stations on campus is loacted outside Leasure Hall in the Quad. (File photo by Angela Ritter | The Collegian)

Over the course of 17 years, the Kansas college rapist has sexually assaulted 14 women from Manhattan and Lawrence. As the investigation continues, Riley County Police Department Capt. Tim Hegarty said he wants to make sure all Kansas State University students remain safe.

“What we’re trying to do is increase student safety awareness about everything,” Hegarty said. “Obviously, we want students to be safe regardless of what they are doing, but [particularly] in the context of this investigation that has been going for close to 17 years.”

Hegarty said this is especially important with the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend, as all but one of the attacks occurred during a school break.

To help students stay safe, Hegarty recommends being aware of one’s surroundings at all times. Hegarty also suggests getting to know one’s neighbors and those who frequent the area in order to notice if something or someone appears suspicious or out of place.

“The key is getting that information to us right away rather than waiting to send it,” Hegarty said.

Hegarty also said it is reasonable to believe that the suspect is conducting surveillance on victims’ homes and encourages students to be aware of what is happening around them.

“If anyone wants to victimize a person, they’re going to watch for someone who is not aware of what’s going on around them, who has their head down, who seems to be an easy target,” Hegarty said.

K-State Police Lt. Bradli Millington recommends walking in pairs at night, utilizing Wildcat Walk, taking advantage of phone apps such as LiveSafe and letting one’s friends know where they are going. Millington encourages students to trust their instincts.

“Use that sixth sense that people have,” Millington said. “If something isn’t right, it probably isn’t right. Listen to your body. It’s going to tell you.”

Abby Helt, junior in music education, said while she typically feels safe around campus, she does follow many of these recommendations, such as carrying self defense spray and avoiding walking alone.

“I think [resources for student safety] are becoming more readily available, which I think is great,” Helt said. “I definitely feel in the past year or so I’ve noticed a bunch of ads for these kinds of apps that will really help you stay safe … I do think there is still a little ways to go, but resources are becoming more available.”

Anna Gregory, junior in anthropology, said she was formerly an architecture student who would spend late nights in studio and walk to her car alone. She became aware of many of the resources available on campus, including learning the locations of blue light emergency telephones, and felt safer.

“I don’t let fear stand in the way of living a normal life, so I’ll just do whatever I want,” Gregory said.

Though she said she felt safe most of the time, there were people walking around her in the middle of the night who would make her uncomfortable sometimes.

“You just have to be prepared at all times,” Gregory said.

Details and news about the investigation and the offender profile can be found at the Kansas College Rapist website, which was put together by the RCPD and the Lawrence Police Department last spring after the 2015 sexual assault in Manhattan was linked to the previous assaults. Both police departments wanted to make sure the website and the offender profile were ready for a press conference held last July.

Hegarty compared linking the series of assaults together to “a disease that has to be diagnosed based upon symptoms.” Similarities between cases lead investigators to believe they were all committed by one suspect, though there is still more to learn.

“We can guess, and that’s one of the things we try to stay away from … guessing and chasing these guesses,” Hegarty said. “We’re trying to focus on those leads which have the highest probability of yielding something we can work with.”

The suspect is described to be a male between 5 feet, 9 inches and 6 feet tall, white — though he wears a mask to hide his features — and he is estimated to be at least 35 years old. He has sexually assaulted women from Manhattan and Lawrence since 2000, though there was a seven-year gap between reported cases from 2008 to 2015.

“What we put out as far as a suspect description is the best we’ve got,” Hegarty said. “Obviously if we had a picture, if we had a composite, we would be papering the town with that. We’d have it on a billboard. We simply don’t have that.”

Anyone with information regarding the investigation is encouraged to contact the RCPD.

“If you think you should call the police, then you should call the police,” Hegarty said. “If something looks suspicious, then it is suspicious. We would rather come out 1,000 times and have it be nothing than miss that one time … there was actually something. Call us, call us, call us. That’s what we want to have happen.”