The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 7, 2011

Two assaulted on Gustavus campus

Attacks believed to be intended sexual assaults

By Robb Murray and Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writers

ST PETER — The Gustavus Adolphus College was reeling Monday after two attempted sexual assaults against female students on campus.

So when 1,300 attended a forum to address the assaults — nearly half the Gustavus community — the impact was clear.

“This is a shock to the community, no question about it,” said Jeff Stocco, Gustavus’ vice president for student affairs. “These two incidents have really shocked us and shaken us up as a community.”

Police are investigating the two attempted sexual assaults, and Monday’s closed-door meeting for students, faculty and staff was held to answer questions and calm concerns. Both assaults occurred in what authorities described as well-lit common areas that have regular foot traffic.

St. Peter Police Chief Matt Peters said he suspects the same man is responsible for both assaults. The only description investigators gave Monday evening was a white man in his late teens or early 20s. The victims reported the man was about 5-foot-10 with a medium build.

“The inference we are drawing from this is that it is more than likely the same suspect,” Peters said. “These incidents are so rare that it would be quite a coincidence to have two of them in the same weekend by different suspects.”

One assault occurred near the Melva Lind Interpretive Center at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday and the other occurred near the Alfred Nobel Hall of Science at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Both victims were able to escape before they were sexually assaulted. The physical injuries were minimal, but the incidents were traumatic for the victims, Peters said.

As discussed at Monday’s forum, the incidents have resulted in some changes around campus.

Stocco said the college plans to bolster campus security. Students are being encouraged to not walk alone, be aware of their surroundings and report anything suspicious.

Peters said the victim from Saturday’s incident initially reported her assault to the campus Sexual Assault Response Team. She didn’t want to report the incident to police at that time, but an alert was sent out to students and staff saying there had been an assault.

When the second incident was reported by another victim on Sunday, the first victim decided it would be best to talk to police about the Saturday assault, Peters said.

It’s not uncommon for students to walk between campus and downtown, so Peters also is warning students and other St. Peter residents to take precautions when they are walking off campus.

“When anyone of this age group is walking alone, there’s a concern this can happen,” Peters said.

Stocco said the large attendance at the forum is a good sign.

“I think it’s a sign of the care and concern Gustavus students, faculty and staff have for their community,” he said.

The forum was designed to update people on what authorities and college officials knew and could relay about the investigation.

“There was frustration, questions, suggestions — a whole mix of things, which seems like a healthy way to react,” Stocco said. “This gave us an opportunity to put to rest some misunderstandings and misinformation that people had.”

Gustavus initially issued alerts to students that referred to the incidents as “assaults.” Stocco said that, as they gathered more information, it became clear that the incidents were physical assault with attempts to commit a sexual assault.

Stocco said that, as the college released more information, officials found they needed to balance to need to inform the campus community while honoring the wishes of the victims.

Monday’s forum, Stocco said, included some “very pointed” questions from students about safety. Stocco said college officials and police did their best to answer all questions, and assured students they’ll continue to answer questions as the investigation continues.

Anyone with information about the incidents, such as people who stood out on campus during the weekend, is being asked to call the St. Peter Police Department at 935-1550.