Students react to University area rapes

After receiving the campus-wide alert about a serial rapist in the area, Sarah Dubra doesn’t exercise at night anymore.

She used to regularly visit the Campus Recreation Center at night, but now comes to USF after dark only when accompanied by a friend. Even during the day, she prefers safety in numbers on campus, abandoning isolated areas for those used heavily by students.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and area police are still searching for a serial rapist in the USF area involved in six attacks, and possibly linked to a seventh. Investigators are awaiting the results of DNA tests before confirming the rapist was responsible for the seventh attack, according to Debbie Carter, HCSO spokeswoman.

Some female students have decided to follow the advice of authorities included in the alert.

Christine Mueller, a senior psychology student, said she planned to buy pepper spray. She has an early class at a time when most students are still asleep. After getting the alert, she was uncomfortable being on campus early in the morning, but said she feels secure at her home in Palm Harbor.

The proximity of the rapes to USF alarmed Melissa Tamayo and her friends.

Tamayo, who lives in Cypress Hall, now avoids late hours on campus. She feels USF residents are likelier targets for the attacker because of their young age. Still, the presence on campus of University Police and her building’s resident assistants mitigates her anxiety.

The suspect entered victims’ residences through unlocked windows between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. According to Tampa Police, the suspect is a black male, 20 to 30 years old, with short dark hair. He is 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 10 inches, and weighs 150-200 lbs. Victims said the suspect has a characteristic foul odor.

Carter confirmed that the latest victim, raped Aug. 19, is a 37-year-old black female. Although six victims were 24 to 37, one victim may have been a minor, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Carter could not give out any further details on where the rapes have occurred, other than street and avenue boundaries. State law prevents law enforcement agencies from releasing any information that could reveal the victims’ addresses.

A composite sketch of the suspect is unavailable, since the victims in each case did not get a clear view of their attacker. Carter said the victims were awoken by the attacker and assaulted in the dark.