Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…

Reclaiming Our Woods

Last week, out for a routine morning run on the Wissahickon trails, a seventeen-year-old girl from our neighborhood narrowly escaped an attempted sexual assault.

As the high school student was running out of the park, a man – knife in hand – grabbed her from behind and tackled her, pulling down her shorts and trying to force himself upon her.  She fought him hard, clearly taking him by surprise with her ferocity, and was able to free herself and run back toward the more populated Forbidden Drive.

Police are speculating that the attacker is the same man who has been linked to three other rapes – and one murder – that have taken place in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park since 2003.

For the remainder of that week, anywhere I went I heard people talking about it.  Getting my hair cut, picking up groceries, meeting a friend for coffee, I could tell that it was in the air.  People were anxious.  There was an added weight to every exchange.

Yesterday morning, for the first time since the incident, Brent and I returned to our local trails.  We ran a familiar five-mile loop and, even in the light rain, passed a dozen other hikers, dog walkers, and runners (not to mention one very rugged horseback rider).

We didn’t talk about the attack as we headed into the woods, but on our way back out of the park, we realized we were both feeling guarded.  We looked at each person we passed a little bit more closely, a little bit more warily, a little bit less warmly.

It wasn’t that I was afraid (as I know I would have, had I been running alone).  Instead, I felt angry, violated.  Someone had invaded our trails, our woods, our community, and had turned it into something different, foreign.

Brent said he’s been daydreaming about coming upon the guy and “getting him.”  I have visions of spotting him  from my car and calling the police.

I don’t want to give into the fear and stop running in the woods, but I also don’t want to be cavalier and assume that it won’t happen again.  I know that these sorts of events can happen anywhere.  And I know that in the coming weeks and months, we’ll all lose some of the edge we’re feeling right now and return to some kind of normalcy.

For now, though, I continue to be guarded, continue to be mad, and continue to keep an eye out as I drive through the park, looking for the man with the hood covering his face…


12 responses to “Reclaiming Our Woods

  1. Laurie April 24, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    I haven’t run by myself since the last attack. Fortuantely Bill has been around to play bouncer, but it still pisses me off to say the least. I like heading down to run in the park for an hour or two by myself and I have some longe training trail runs coming up, too.
    I’ve imagined “getting him” like Brent. Usually involves a well-placed rock to his head.

  2. kari w/ Jogging with Fiction April 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Holy cow! Stay safe. That is awful. Definitely always go with a buddy!

  3. Laurie April 24, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    P.S. The rapist’s/murderer’s head, not Brent’s.

  4. Nerdvist April 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Take your anger and run with it. Literally. Take those runs, with the same sensibility you always do.
    The more people continuing to be out there running, the less inviting the opportunity for assault.
    I vote your odds of being killed on your daily highway commute are still much higher than on foot in the woods. Even the city woods.
    (Or with Laurie biking downhill in the dark with a rock in hand looking for a head to hit……)

  5. Denise April 25, 2011 at 8:29 am

    this upsets me so much. i used to run down there all the time by myself when i lived in conshy. everyone told me not to run by myself but i don’t want to live in constant fear. i can’t believe they still haven’t caught this guy.

  6. the dawn April 25, 2011 at 10:55 am

    oh wow! that’s so terrifying! and i’m glad that you guys are starting to win back the woods…but don’t go it alone.

    i was in new york last weekend and i just went for a walk to central park…and even though i know that it’s just TV, i could help but think about all the law and order episodes that have been filmed there. the bridges and dark corners creeped me out!

    stay safe!!!

  7. Angela Kidd April 25, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Glad the girl was able to escape. I always get so nervous running our trail systems solo and even though they are my favorite runs, sadly don’t do it unless I’m in a group.

  8. Shelly April 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    That is so scary! I sometimes get to comfortable in my rural setting allowing myself to think that things like “that” can’t happen here. Unfortunately, there can always be a first. I needed this reminder as the temperatures warm and my running is outside (too often solo or with the baby-jogger only). I’ll run prepared and aware!

  9. Julie April 25, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I totally hear your fear and I can only imagine if this is the effect it is having on you, how desperately unnerved that poor girl must be feeling 😦

  10. Johann April 26, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Things like this make me angry as well. It really takes away your freedom. Take care!

  11. Jill April 26, 2011 at 11:25 am

    It is so scary…and more so, just plain sad! I run a ton in the park near my house (well, did when I could run) and just always tried to be aware…but you never know.

    Be careful!

  12. DC Runographer April 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I would have the same daydream, that I myself would “get him” and put an end to the fear he’s caused. Interesting that when that happens to one person, everyone who uses those woods and trails feels violated.

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