MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Just before daybreak on Monday, a young woman had parked her car and was walking along a path in Minneapolis' Riverside Park. Suddenly, she was approached by a man who was demanding money.
That's when the man pulled out a weapon and forced the woman into a heavily wooded area of the park and sexually assaulted her.
Minneapolis Police Lt. Nancy Dunlap says it's a crime that stands apart from most other sexual assaults.
"This is a very unique sexual assault. It's not the type that we have seen within several years, I haven't seen any quite like this," Dunlap said.
The female victim, a St. Catherine student, fled on foot and was treated at a nearby hospital. Her screams were heard by several other people who came to her aid while waiting for police.
The woman described her attacker as a black male, medium to heavy build, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 35 to 40 years old with a scruffy beard.
She said he was also was wearing a navy blue jacket that zipped up.
"Usually, these kinds of assaults involve people that are acquaintances or maybe had recently met - that type of thing. But where someone is grabbed and dragged into the woods, we haven't seen that for a while," Dunlap said.
Riverside Park, at South 27th Avenue and South 6th Street, is a frequent crossing area for students and employees who often park their cars several blocks away and walk to Riverside Hospital or the St. Catherine University's Minneapolis campus.
Kim Jensen works nearby and feels safe in the daylight, but adds that people are vulnerable in the pre-dawn and evening hours.
"I would never walk through the park after like 4:30 during the winter. It's just too dark, there's just not enough lighting. So I think a lot of people are more prone to use the street where there's at least some street lighting," Jensen said.
WCCO Radio's Edgar Linares spoke with students at St. Catherine's - several of whom are taking steps to protect themselves in the event of an attack. A student named Tanya says that she carries a weapon for protection, as well as several of her friends.
"People should be taking self-defense classes, making sure they're not walking by themselves. We always walk in a group around here and we keep mace on them…I have mace," Tanya said. "Also carry your keys in your hand so if you're attacked you can jab them."
Another student, named Alexa, says she's more aware of her surroundings.
"I'm being more cautious than normal. I know the neighborhood we live in so it's…just being extra safe."
When asked how often she passes through Riverside Park, Alexa says rarely.
"We used to a little more before the weather changed. Maybe once a week now," she said.
Minneapolis Police are asking for the public's help in identifying the suspect.
Anyone with information is asked to call 612-673-2358.
Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
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