Police: Don’t walk alone after nightfall

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

Editor’s Note: This story was written before the arrest of Chris Jones on April 21.

Another sexual assault has occurred, but this time, the assailant kidnapped, raped and robbed a 24-year-old woman at knifepoint in a Brookings neighborhood.

As a result, local police are advising women not to walk alone at night and are encouraging them to take added security precautions.

“Exercise all precautions when traveling at night within Brookings,” said Chief Jeff Miller of the Brookings Police Department.

The incident on April 20 occurred shortly after midnight when the Brookings woman was abducted. She was then taken to another location in Brookings where she was raped. The victim was later released.

Police do believe the crime is connected to the two recent sexual assaults on campus, as the suspect description is similar. Miller described the suspect as an African American man of average to slender build with a height of 5-foot-8 inches to 6-feet. Miller said his skin tone is somewhere in between being extremely dark and extremely light, but as the assailant keeps himself covered up, nothing more can be added to the description.

The fact that the most recent assault has been connected with the campus incidents has made some female students more paranoid.

Brienna Hirsch, a freshman pre-nursing major, said the incidents are very scary, especially as their numbers rise. Hirsch said she tries to not be outside late, but if she is, she goes with her roommate or friends.

“It makes you much more leery and more aware of your surroundings, even when you’re with friends,” she said.

Hannah Morford, a junior graphic design major, said she thinks she knows at least one of the victims, so the incidents hit very close to home.

“It’s right in our backyard, where we walk everyday,” she said.

The two campus incidents occurred on March 29 and April 7, both shortly after midnight. The first incident happened near the Hilton M. Briggs Library, while the second was in a parking lot near Young and Caldwell residence halls.

Police believe the April 20 incident is connected to the March 29 and April 7 assaults, but they are unsure if an early morning incident on April 16 is related. In that incident, a young woman was approached at 2 a.m. by an unidentified male outside Young Hall. A university release said the facts in that case are not similar to those from the other two assaults reported, and no arrests were made.

Miller said the city has seen serial burglaries and thefts, but Brookings has never had a serial crime like this.

“A crime of this nature and when it is reoccurring is very serious and new to us,” he said.

Miller did not want to disclose too much information about the most recent incident because he did not want to hinder the investigation. He said the assailant is obviously paying attention, since he knew that security was tightened on campus, so he went off campus.

Miller did say the incident happened within the Brookings city limits, but he did not release the location. He said people should remain alert when they are in any part of Brookings.

“We’re concerned about all of Brookings,” he said.

If female students work late, Miller recommended calling a male friend, neighbor or the Brookings Police Department for an escort to and from their apartments.

“That would be prudent until we get this person caught,” he said.

From the university standpoint, Bob Otterson, executive assistant to the president, said administrators are encouraging everyone to take personal safety precautions, such as walking in pairs, always being aware of surroundings and using the SDSUPD escort service, which is available 24 hours a day by calling 688-5117.

Historically, the escort service has not been used frequently, but in the last week, SDSUPD has made 36 escorts, Otterson said.

“Calling the escort service is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence,” he said.

Brookings Mayor Tim Reed also encouraged women to stay aware because incidents like these can happen in a town of any size.

“We always have to be vigilant and watch for these types of things,” he said.

The Brookings Police Department has no suspects at the current time, but Miller and Reed both said they are optimistic that the department will find the assailant.

“I’m confident our police force will be able to get this solved,” he said.

The Brookings Police, South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation and the SDSUPD are investigating the incident. Anyone with information should contact the Brookings Police Department at 692-2113 or the SDSUPD at 688-5117.

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for tips that lead to the arrest of a suspect. Tips can be submitted by calling 692-STOP or on the Web at www.brookingsareacrimestoppers.com.


The Victory Martial Arts school in Brookings will offer free women’s self-defense classes on May 1 at 3 p.m.

“One of the major things that people need to do is be aware of their environment,” said Jennifer Briggs, head instructor at Victory Martial Arts. “Never talk on your cell phone when walking alone. It puts you in a vulnerable position.”

Another suggestion that Briggs had for women was to walk with purpose and to keep their heads up when walking.

“When you hang your head while walking it can symbolize vulnerability and a lack of confidence,” said Briggs. “That puts you in a very unsafe position because the attacker will pick up on it and take advantage of it.”

When students are leaving to go home, they should call their roommates and tell them that they will be home in 10 minutes, Briggs said. At parties, women should also be attentive, she said.

“When women are at a party, they should never leave their drink unattended and avoid putting themselves in a position where they won’t be heard if they scream,” she said. If women would like to participate in the self-defense seminar, they can contact Briggs at 690-2977 or check out www.victorymartialarts.us.

Description concern

Since the assailant was covered up, the police do not know his hair or eye color, and the description – an African-American male of slender build, 5-foot-8 inches to 5-foot-10 inches in height – fits many of the small African-American male population on campus.

“It puts the university in a really tough position to try to deal with the situation,” said C.D. Douglas, executive director of TRiO Programs/Multicultural Affairs. “The university has to be sensitive to the victims, but at the same time, they have to be sensitive to other students, as well.”Some African-American males think others are looking at them or overheard negative comments, Douglas said.

“It’s a tough situation for a student of color,” he said.

Cedric Williams, an African-American sophomore physical therapy major, was stopped twice around 9 p.m. April 16 while walking on campus. He was asked for his student I.D. in both instances.

Williams said he understood why the officers stopped him and that he was not treated rudely.

“They weren’t really implying anything,” he said. “They were pretty professional about it, I guess.”

Williams thinks other African-American males will likely be questioned until the attacker is caught.

“You can only do so much when that’s all you have for a description,” he said. “If that’s what it takes, then whatever.”

To deal these issues, Douglas has met with students and sent out e-mails to those concerned with the description. He tells students to continue with their daily routines, and he lets them know that he is available for support.

“Any time they have questions or concerns, my door is always open,” he said.

Mace sales increase

Mace sales increaseMace has been a big seller in Brookings in response to the sexual assaults that have occurred over the past three weeks.

At least three Brookings’ businesses – Funbags & Accessories, The Exchange and Dunham’s Sports – sell Mace, but all were out of the product on April 20, the day the most recent assault occurred.

The Exchange should have more Mace on April 21 at 2:30 p.m. Co-owner Brenda Torino said this is the store’s fourth shipment of Mace, and she never expected the Mace to go so fast.

“Everyone wants it, and we’re getting so many phone calls and people coming in, it’s been crazy,” she said.

Heather Mulder, manager at Funbags, said the store sold out of Mace last week, but the store will get shipments on April 23, 26 and 27. The store will have several types, such as quick-release clips for purses and Mace disguised as lipsticks or pens.

Dunham’s will have Mace on April 22, store officials said.