(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Police said a 73-year-old birdwatcher told them she was raped in Central Park on Wednesday morning, by a man who asked her if she remembered him before the attack.
The woman, whose name hasn't been released, said she regularly visits the park and thinks the assailant was the same man she photographed masturbating about nine days ago in another isolated part of the park, police said. She said he demanded she delete the image before they went their separate ways, and tried to grab her camera but didn't succeed. Police said that initial encounter wasn't reported.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said she told police them she was attacked at about 11 a.m. in a wooded area near the park's Strawberry Fields, which serves as a memorial to former Beatles' singer John Lennon.
After sexually assaulting her, the man made off with her backpack that contained a camera, police said. He also tried to steal her watch but was unsuccessful.
Eric Ozawa, a college professor and birdwatcher, found the woman and called 911. He said he noticed a pair of legs sticking out along the path and initially thought it was somebody sleeping. As he got closer, he realized it was a woman lying face down.
Ozawa said her face was badly swollen. She had a black eye and was covered in mulch. But she still appeared "self-possessed and lucid," he said.
When the woman told Ozawa she was mugged and raped, he immediately called the police.
"It's shocking that it could happen in the park in broad daylight," he said. "That someone could rape somebody in her 70s."
Investigators interviewed Ozawa on Wednesday as other officers and detectives swarmed the scene in search of the suspect. Police blocked off much of the area near West 72nd Street and Central Park West as they hunted for a suspect described as a man in his 40s.
Authorities later released surveillance images of the suspect who was wearing black pants, a black T-shirt and white sneakers. He was carrying a backpack that resembled the one stolen from the woman, and also wearing a second backpack.