By Caleb Hutton
See below for updates.
Police were looking for a man who came out of some bushes and grabbed a Western Washington University student by the wrist Thursday night, Feb. 28, on North Garden Street.
A Western female student reported that she was walking near the intersection of N. Garden and Beech streets near campus at 9:20 p.m. tonight when a man exited from some bushes, approached her and grabbed her wrist. She struck him in the face and he fled southbound on N. Garden, away from campus and toward downtown. The man is described as being a white male, 5 feet 8 inches tall with an average build, in his early 20s, and wearing dark sweat pants and a long sleeved grey shirt. Police are searching the area. Call 911 if you have any information.
Within the hour, WWU sent out an emergency alert and tweeted what information was available.
#WesternAlert: A woman said a man grabbed her at 9:20 tonight near N. Garden and Beech. She struck him and he fled. Police are searching.
— Western Washington U (@WWU) March 1, 2013
I’ve got a call out to the police spokesman. In the meantime — judging by a list of jail bookings since last night — it doesn’t appear the suspect was caught.
Update at 11 a.m. It’s worth noting: About a week ago, a similar incident was reported near Fairhaven College. It doesn’t appear that the height of the suspects in both incidents match up, but some other details are consistent.
A Western female student walking from Fairhaven College Commons through the courtyard and toward the 12A parking lot reported that a man approached her at about 6:30 p.m. tonight and asked directions. He then grabbed her arm and attempted to pull her into nearby woods. The woman broke free and the man fled. He is described as a college-aged white man, 6 feet 2 inches tall, slender build and wearing a baggy hoodie and jeans. The woman did not report the assault to police until several hours later, after 9:30 p.m. Police are searching the area. If you have any information please call police at 911.
This might be a good time to point out that if you want emergency alerts from the university, click here and fill out the form.
Update at 11:30 a.m. Randy Stegmeier, chief of WWU police, said the difference in the suspect descriptions — especially the big difference in height — makes it unlikely that the two cases are connected, despite the similar circumstances.
“But you never know,” Stegmeier said. “(Different) victims can have different views.”
The latest suspect was in his late teens or early 20s. He may have said something to the woman when he grabbed her, but she didn’t hear clearly. And she didn’t seem to get a very good look at him, according to police. It wasn’t clear if he had a bloody nose or any other obvious injuries from getting hit in the face, but apparently, Stegmeier said, she thwacked him pretty hard.
“So good for her,” the police chief said.
At the time of this post, nobody has been arrested in either case.
Stegmeier said he plans to send out an advisory reminding students about WWU’s Greencoat escorts and other ways to safe when walking near campus at night.
Update at 2:45 p.m. Stegmeier just released this message. Here are the last two paragraphs:
No suspects have been identified and it is unknown if these two incidents are related. Police are following leads and asking for anyone with information about either incident or having seen suspicious persons on or around the Western campus to call the University Police Department at (360) 650-3555 or Detective
Renick with the Bellingham Police Department at (360) 778-8754 about the N. Garden incident.
For anyone walking during the hours of darkness; try to walk with others, stay in well-lighted and well-traveled areas; always be aware of your surroundings and anyone in the area; keep your cellphone handy; if you are on campus, be aware of the locations of the emergency “blue phones” and if you must walk alone, call University Police for a safety escort from our Public Safety Assistants.