The attack happened around 11 a.m. Saturday on the part of the Rivergreenway along Tillman Road where it goes under the bridge at Lower Huntington Road.
A woman was jogging southbound and noticed a man running toward her. She made eye-contact with him and even said 'hello,' Raquel Foster, the public information officer for the Fort Wayne Police Department, said.
The man ran past the woman, but turned around and attacked her from behind, Foster said. He sexually assaulted the woman until another runner came upon them.
"IT's very fortunate we did have another runner on the trail disrupt the attack," Foster said.
The attacker then ran off toward the north. Police dogs tracked the scent Saturday and were led to an area around a nearby apartment complex. Foster said he could have had a car waiting in that area.
"It's possible someone in the area knows our perpetrator," Foster said.
He's described as around 18-23 years old, about 5'9" tall with a medium build and light complexion. He has an afro-style haircut that's about three inches long. He was wearing a gray Ohio State sweatshirt and knee-length baggy red shorts on Saturday morning.
"The victim was taken to the Sexual Assault Treatment Center, so there's a possibility of DNA evidence," Foster said.
Anyone with any information should call police at (260) 427-1222 or Crime Stoppers at (260) 436-STOP.
Foster said sexual assault attacks aren't usually about sex, but more about taking power over someone else.
"We believe this was a crime of opportunity," she said. "Most stranger on stranger attacks are crimes of opportunity. The circumstances existed for this attack. He might not have intended to attack anyone that day, but the circumstances existed in a secluded area of the trail and there weren't a lot of runners on the trail that morning."
The runner was aware of her surroundings, which is one safety step police encourage. It was also mid-morning on a Saturday.
"That's unusual. It's very uncommon to have stranger on stranger and very uncommon in broad daylight. He was very bold. We need to get this predator off the streets and make it safer for everyone else. Because his attack was interrupted, because he did not get to complete the attack, it's likely he'll strike again."
Attacks like this could happen anywhere, not just on a trail. That's why Foster said it's important to always take personal safety steps:
• Walk or run with a friend;
• Walk or run in familiar areas;
• Avoid secluded or poorly-lit areas, and avoid running at night;
• Share your intended route and expected return time with a family member or friend;
• Avoid using radio headsets or earphones so that you can hear other trail users approaching;
• Be alert and aware of your surroundings and of other people around you;
• Carry a cell phone with you;
• Wear reflective or bright-colored clothing;
• Carry a whistle or personal security device.
Three Rivers Running Company does training classes for long-distance runners and part of that involves safety.
"If you're wearing headphones, don't have both earphones in. Have one out so you can hear your surroundings, whether that be traffic or someone coming up on you. Have an escape plan, meaning 'I know this gas station near by or know this neighborhood a little better,'" Eric Ade, the store manager, said.
The running store also sells pepper spray that's in a smaller bottle with a wrist strap to make it easy for runners to take it with them.
"A couple staff members said this weekend a few people did come in and buy some [after the attack]," Ade said.
The Three Rivers Running Company reminded its Facebook followers of safety tips in the wake of the attack. These safety measures should be used anytime and anywhere, not just on trails.
"Anytime there's an attack in our city, whether it be on a trail or in a parking lot or on a street or in an alley, we're always concerned about that," Frank Suarez with the Fort Wayne Public Works Department said.
Suarez said about 60,000 people use the trails in Fort Wayne between the spring through October. The trail where the attack happened is one of the most popular trails. It had 15,000 people use it in the month of August, which is an average of about 450 people a day.
"Statistics show [the trails] are safe and people do use them safely every day," he said.
Saturday was the first attack on the trails Suarez and Foster are aware of.
Now the community is taking a stand against violence on the trail system. On Facebook, an event on October 13 will line the trails with people uniting to show they won't tolerate violence on the trails. Click here to learn more about how to get involved or participate.
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