Police investigating 2nd assault report at Bowdoin College

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BRUNSWICK — Police are investigating another reported assault near the Bowdoin College campus, one week after a reported rape at a college-owned Belmont Street residence.

Police Department Cmdr. Marc Hagan said police received a call at 8:37 p.m. Tuesday night from a 20-year-old student who reported she was walking toward campus on Potter Street, near the intersection of Union Street, when she was grabbed from behind.

The woman screamed and ran away, Hagan said, and when she turned around her assailant was nowhere in sight. She then sought shelter at Howell House, a college residence on Maine Street.

For the time being, police are investigating the incident separately from the Nov. 10 sexual assault. But “it’s disturbing we’ve had two incidents in the last two weeks now,” Hagan said.

“I would continue to tell people to be cognizant of their surroundings – if you’re walking after dark, walk with a friend, walk with somebody else, avoid unlit areas,” he added. “If something occurs, please give us a call right away.”

The student said she was grabbed around 8 p.m., Hagan said, and called college security before police were contacted.

“The quicker we get a call, the quicker we can respond,” he added.

The second reported assault involving a female college student and an unidentified assailant in the last week prompted a group of about 30 college students, staff, and Brunswick residents on Wednesday night to walk through the neighborhood in what they called a symbolic “community safety walk.”

In the first incident on Nov. 10, police and campus security responded to a call after 10 p.m. from a student who reported that an unidentified man had entered Mayflower Apartments on Belmont Street through an unlocked door and sexually assaulted her in her room.

Because it was dark, the victim was not able to provide a substantial physical description, Hagan said, but believed him to be in his 20s, probably older than a college student would be.

Police have, however, released a sketch of a “person of interest” observed loitering in the area around the college-owned Mayflower Apartments the night of the reported assault.

The man is described in a press release as white, of slender build, between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall. He had matted, uncombed hair, the release stated, and at the time was wearing layered clothing, possibly a red top, with dark blue or black pants.

A neighbor noticed him around 7:30 p.m. the evening of the assault, and had not seen him in the neighborhood before, according to Hagan. The student who was assaulted called police just before 10:40 p.m., according to police records.

“It should be noted that (the individual) may or may not be involved in the assault,” Cmdr. Mark Waltz said in a prepared statement Monday, Nov. 16. “At this point we are simply trying to identify him as he was seen loitering in the area.”

Hagan said Wednesday that the detective bureau has received “some information” in the days since the composite sketch was released. He also said police investigators are also planning to re-interview the victim in hopes of gleaning more information.

Students were initially critical of the way campus security and police handled the investigation the night of the assault.

“Cops were congregating and talking about things, and apparently everyone else was pressed against the windows watching, and they didn’t know anything,” Zoe Borenstein told the Bowdoin Orient. “Some people came out and asked the police officers what was going on, and they just said ‘It’s not your concern,’… they told us ‘You’re not in danger,’ but that just seemed totally unfounded.”

Borenstein said the Mayflower residents were not given any additional information, the student newspaper reported, until a school-wide email was sent out at noon the next day by college security.

“Rather than issue incomplete information, we thought it best to let the entire community know what happened at once as soon as we could,” Bowdoin Security Director Randy Nichols said in a statement to the Orient, adding that town and campus officers had been on the scene until 4:30 a.m. the night of the attack.

In the days since the alleged assault, there have been increased calls reporting suspicious activity around the Bowdoin campus, police logs show.

Hagan confirmed the trend Tuesday, saying, “This is one of the very few positives that comes out of very negative situation … People are more aware of their surroundings.”

Bowdoin students have also created a Facebook group called Bowdoin Safe Walk to facilitate walking with others. At press time, the group had a list of 101 volunteers and their phone numbers, emails, residences and hours of availability. The Facebook group has 1,457 members; Bowdoin has about 1,800 students.

College administration has also boosted security efforts on campus. In an email to the student body Wednesday, Nov. 11, Nichols said Bowdoin security would be increasing its patrols both around campus and at off-campus properties. Brunswick police also increased patrols, according to Hagan.

In an email Nov. 12, Nichols reported that the offices of the dean, safety, and facilities would be conducting a lighting walk “to review the effectiveness of nighttime lighting on campus and at off-campus residences owned by the College.” Students, faculty and staff were invited to participate.

Bowdoin is also reviewing the security of doors and windows at residences on and off campus.

College spokesman Doug Cook said in an email last week that the college was also accommodating students who live in Mayflower Apartments and want temporary or permanent placement in a different residence. Nine students opted to move after the reported sexual assault, he said.

In response to press requests, Cook said the college is not allowing members of the media to be on private Bowdoin College property, including at the Mayflower Apartments.

Hagan said Tuesday that the increased patrols by Brunswick police would conclude this weekend. After that, “we’ll have to sit down and decide again,” he said.

Bowdoin reported 15 on-campus rapes to the U.S. Department of Education in 2014, up from the six forcible sexual offenses the college reported in 2013 and four in 2012.

College officials said incidents are reported to the federal government for the year they are actually reported to the school, and that increased reporting is a “positive sign.”

“Sexual assaults are notoriously under-reported, so even though our numbers this year increased substantially … it still really is the tip of the iceberg,” Nichols said in an interview to the Bowdoin Orient in October.

The Orient also reported this trend is mirrored at peer schools like Williams College and Bates College.

The Nov. 10 assault is the second incident of campus rape being investigated by the Brunswick Police Department this year. Former Bowdoin student Logan Taylor was indicted on a single count of gross sexual assault, a Class A felony, by a Cumberland County grand jury in October for allegedly raping another student in May.

Those with any information about either of the recent assaults are asked to contact Brunswick police at 725-5521, or Bowdoin Security at 725-3314.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter in Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick police released this composite sketch of a “person of interest” who was seen loitering in the area of Bowdoin College’s Mayflower Apartments on Belmont Street Nov. 10, before a student reported being raped.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.