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tragedy strikes

Covering the coverage: Serial attack sketches and events appear related; how Austin is reacting

In the wake of the New Year’s Day murder of local activist Esme Barrera, police continue to search for a suspect who allegedly targeted several other women both before and after Barrera’s body was found in her King Street home.

It has been widely reported that, about 30 minutes prior to the homicide call that brought officers to Barrera’s residence, a 21-year old woman walking on the same street was attacked by a man who pushed her to the ground. The man fled when she screamed for help. The woman has been critical of the APD’s response to her call, noting that:

"They (police) didn't actually take a report," the assault victim said, explaining that the officer did not write down anything in her presence. "I reported it and he said he was going to check around the neighborhood but he probably wasn't going to find him."

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has responded, saying that the officer in question took appropriate action:

"The truth is our officer responded, contacted the victim, actually got information on the suspect, drove around looking for the suspect and after about five to ten minutes of looking for the suspect, the homicide call actually came out."

MyFoxAustin reports that another series of attacks may be related to New Year’s Day violence. One West 31st Street resident has been targeted twice since Christmas day, supposedly by the same man. The woman, whose name has not yet been released, says that she opened her door to investigate noises outside her home on Christmas Day and found a man, who was possibly attempting to gain entrance to the house.

"He gave me this grin. It was the scariest grin I'd ever seen. I went back into my apartment and I looked through the cracks of my window and I saw him masturbating."

The woman called police and purchased a can of mace to protect herself, but didn’t encounter the man again in the coming days — until New Year’s, when she was woken by an intruder who entered her home.

She says everyone was drinking and passed out at her home, she in her bed, several others in the living room.

"Next thing I remember is getting strangled… Before dying you're happy, you're peaceful I was thinking about my family and my friends but at the same time I was fighting for my life and it went blank. Next thing I woke up without clothes."

[H]er female friend sleeping in the living room the morning of the attack felt a man stroke her shoulder. When she woke up she found that her bra strap had been cut. She also remembers seeing a man leaving the apartment.

The victim’s home is about half a mile from the King Street block where Barrera and another woman were attacked on New Year’s, and the break-in occurred on the same evening. Given the proximity and the nature of the events, it’s possible they are related, though YNN and the Statesman note that the relationship between the attacks is still being determined:

Investigators do not know whether the indecent exposure case is related to the incidents that took place on Dec. 31 and do not have any evidence to show they are connected, said Lt. Michael Eveleth.

Sketches of the suspect, described as a 6-foot black male between the ages of 30 and 40, have been released. Of course, if you have any information, you should contact authorities; however, Chris Lynn, over at Republic of Austin, notes that we should "stay vigilant, not scared":

When you find out a special person in your life has passed and her murderer is still on the loose, your shock turns to anger and fear. You want revenge and you want to be safe. These are both natural responses, but taken to extremes, they can be harmful and crippling. We, as a city, need a level check to make sure either one doesn’t get out of hand.

Barrera's death marks Austin's first homicide of 2012; the death of Stephanie Renee Harvey, a 34-year old whose body was found in a North Austin dumpster on Monday, was the second. Yesterday, eyewitness account and surveillance tapes led to the arrest of 30-year old James Albert Grady, who has been charged with Harvey's murder. The suspect does not exactly match the description given by the King Street and West 31st Street victims, and it seems unlikely that the cases are related.

These incidents are a reminder that we should all be on alert, especially at night, and especially when we’re alone. Yesterday, CultureMap posted a guide on staying safe in the city, and KXAN has some tips on self defense.

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