Cornell University urging students to take precautions after reported assaults

Administrators at Cornell University are urging students to take precautions after three reported assaults on or near the campus.

Cornell police say a woman was approaching a bridge early Sunday morning when a man grabbed her from behind and forced her to have sexual intercourse. There were two other reports Sunday morning of women being grabbed and fending off their attackers, one in a parking lot and the other in an apartment.

The attacks took students by surprise on Monday, as the incidents hit very close to home.

"I mean it could've happened to me," Ashby Sussman, a junior at Cornell University, says. "If two of my friends were walking across the bridge...what if one person was ahead of the other and got attacked, what would the other person do?"

"It was really surprising because I've always felt really comfortable walking around," Alex Schmall, a sophomore, says. "It was really sad to hear about."

As police investigate the incidents, Cornell officials are urging people to lock their doors and to take precautions while out walking in the evening. Cornell Police also say they are increasing their patrols in response to the assaults.

"We've added additional staffing over the last few days," Sgt. Anthony Tostanoski of Cornell University Police says. "We've instructed our officers to go ahead and let the students hop in the patrol cars and we'll take them home."

Meanwhile, officials at the University at Albany sent out an email urging students take precautions after a reported off-campus rape of a student this weekend.

The following are messages sent out from leaders at Cornell to students and staff:

Dear members of the Cornell community,

We are writing to inform you about incidents involving sexual assault that occurred early Sunday morning that targeted female members of our campus community. The Cornell University Police Department (CUPD) is asking for your assistance as they investigate these matters. Please be assured that the victims of these incidents are receiving assistance and support from university staff. All of us at Cornell condemn, in the strongest terms, any action that threatens the safety of any member of our community.

We ask you to read the information below and contact us if you can be of assistance. Because these incidents are concerning and can lead to many questions, please take advantage of the support services available to you on the campus. You can contact your residence hall director, house dean or the staff in the Office of the Dean of Students (255-1115). You can also obtain assistance from CAPS (255-5155) and EARS (255-3277). Our health professionals at Gannett are available to help address concerns you may have. Please do not hesitate to ask for help.

We urge you to be prudent and take all necessary safety precautions, including locking your doors and windows, as well as being thoughtful and proactive in planning how you will return to your residence at the end of the evening and identifying means of transportation available at night, such as the university's Blue Light services. Blue Light emergency telephones on campus have direct lines to Cornell Police, and the free Blue Light bus service operates daily from 6:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. To request the Blue Light escort service for a night escort around campus and the immediate area, use a Blue Light phone. If at any time you are concerned about your safety, please contact the Cornell Police at 255-1111 or call 911 immediately for assistance. We will keep you informed as new information becomes available.

Susan H. Murphy, Vice President for Student and Academic Services

Cornell also provided the following information about the attacks:

The following information is provided by Cornell University Police, which is conducting full investigations into each incident, in conjunction with the Ithaca Police Department. CUPD believes that members of the Cornell community need to be aware of these incidents and make appropriate decisions regarding their personal safety.

The first incident occurred at about 2 a.m. this morning, Sunday, Sept. 2, in the lower Hughes parking lot located at the east end of South Avenue. A female student reported that a male subject grabbed her around the waist from behind and pulled at her shirt very aggressively. She screamed and used a bag she was carrying to hit the subject. Some other students in the area intervened, and the male subject fled towards the Hughes Hall pathway.

The second incident is a reported rape that triggered an earlier campus-wide
â??crime alertâ?? and it occurred on the stairs leading to the south side of the Suspension Bridge on the 800 block of University Avenue at about 3:45 a.m. A female student reported that she was walking down the stairs when she was grabbed from behind by an unknown male who forced her to have sexual intercourse. The victim reported that the attacker was a dark-skinned or Hispanic-white male, 5-feet-9 inches to 6-feet tall. The suspect fled north across the Suspension Bridge.

The third, off-campus incident was reported to Cornell University Police at about 8:05 a.m. A female member of the community contacted police to report a forcible-touching incident, after seeing the crime alert that was issued for the reported rape. The Ithaca Police Department is investigating the incident, which the victim said occurred early this morning. The victim reported that at about 3:15 a.m., she answered a knock at her door at her College Avenue residence and a male subject asked about an individual that did not reside there. The female resident stated that she was unfamiliar with any person by that name and tried to close the door on the male subject. The subject forced his way into the residence and a brief struggle ensued. During the struggle, the victim reported that the male subject put his arm around her and reached under her dress. The victim was able to push the male subject out of the residence.

The victim in this incident described the perpetrator as a college-age, Hispanic male, average build, 5-feet-9 to 5-feet-10 inches tall, dark hair, wearing a white long-sleeve, button-down shirt and plaid knee-length shorts. The perpetrator also reportedly has a noticeable mole on one cheek. He was last seen headed in the direction of Collegetown. This incident also was the subject of a campuswide crime alert today.

The Cornell police investigation is continuing. Police also are asking to interview anyone who witnessed any of the incidents or can help with any information related to these incidents. Please contact the Cornell University Police Department at 607-255-1111. In addition, police are increasing available staffing to answer calls for walking escorts, provide increased visibility and investigate these incidents.

Cornell University Police reminds the community to call 911 in emergencies, on and off campus. Report any suspicious activity on campus to the Cornell University Police or by using a Blue Light telephone. All suspicious activity off campus should be reported to the Ithaca City Police Department at 607-272-3245.

Mary G. Opperman, Vice President for Human Resources and Safety Services

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)