Some question assault notification

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

Notification about two recent sexual assaults on campus came less than 24 hours after the second incident, but some students question if the information came soon enough and if students are getting all the answers they need.

“The e-mail was very vague about what’s going on,” said Kellie Pruismann, a sophomore microbiology major. “I went to the police station and asked a bunch of questions. The officer said, ‘We know as much as you know.’ They don’t want to answer any of our questions.”

University officials began informing students late Wednesday afternoon and evening about the related assaults by putting up be-on-the-lookout posters, which included the description of the assailant and encouraged students to take safety precautions and alert the police to people matching the description.

“Historically, this is a safe campus,” said Bob Otterson, executive assistant to the president. “This is the first be-on-the-lookout alert in 10 to 12 years.”

The first incident happened on March 29 shortly after midnight on the south side of the library. The second incident occurred early Wednesday, April 7, also shortly after midnight, in the south parking lot east of the Young and Caldwell residence halls. Both times the assailant snuck up on the victims and was armed with a knife, Otterson said. In the second incident, the assailant also stole money, he said.

In addition to the posters, an e-mail was sent out to all students at about 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday encouraging them to check MyStateOnline for further information. A news release was sent Thursday morning.

“This is a safe campus, and university officials notified students and employees after verifying the available information,” Otterson said.

Kim Wurtz, a sophomore pharmacy major, said she felt these efforts by the university were sufficient.

“I think they have done a good job putting signs up and sending out e-mails,” she said.

For these recent incidents, the Campus Alert System was not used because that is intended to notify students of events that “immediately affect the day-to-day operations of the university,” Otterson said. Examples of those events include weather-related announcements, bomb threats and infrastructure problems, such as when the university loses electricity.

While some feel the university did a good job of notifying students, others questioned the delay after the first incident.

“I think the school should have told us the first time it happened, not after two weeks,” said Nicole Ulvestad, a sophomore psychology major. “If they told us the first time, it probably wouldn’t have happened a second time.”

Several factors contributed to the university’s decision to not release information right after the first incident, Otterson said. The investigation was then at the point “where officers were not confident in the information for a notification,” and officers were double-checking information, he said.

Investigators also had a solid suspect after the first incident, Otterson said. That lead has since fallen through.

“University officials made decisions with the best information available at the time, and we will continue to keep the safety and well-being of our students and employees top-of-mind,” he said.

Officials will review all their decisions as part of standard procedure, Otterson said. In response to the incidents, the SDSUPD is also looking at its staffing levels throughout the day, he said.

According to officers working on the investigation, the assailant is described as an African-American male of slender build, 5-foot-8 inches to 5-foot-10 inches in height. He was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt with a dark bandana covering part of his face.

Otterson said the university has put out all the details on the man’s description that have been confirmed.

“We have put out what we feel confident in sharing in hopes that someone can offer information,” he said.

Several officers with the SDSUPD are currently working through 35 to 40 tips and leads, many that have come from students. Otterson said they have questioned several people and did review some security video from The Union. There are not surveillance cameras in the parking lot that Otterson knows of, he said.

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the SDSUPD at 688-5117 or the Brookings Police Department at 692-2113. Everyone is also encouraged to take safety precautions, such as using the 24-hour escort service that the SDSUPD offers throughout campus seven days a week.

“We encourage students, faculty and staff to walk in pairs, and if they feel uncomfortable, they should engage the UPD escort services,” Otterson said.

Additionally, Otterson did ask students to respect the privacy of the victims.

“We recognize students have more questions about this report,” he said. “We only ask our students to keep in mind the two young women involved in these incidents.”

News editor Emma DeJong contributed to this report.