Two black and white photographs released by the San Diego Police Department late Friday night may just be the key to solving the latest assault case out of North Park.
On Thursday, at around 11:30 p.m., a woman was walking alone in an alley near Lincoln Avenue and Idaho Street when she was knocked to the ground by an unknown attacker and punched in the face, according to police.
She suffered significant injuries and lost consciousness before being transported to a local hospital.
Residents reported hearing the woman screaming.
“Me and my brothers heard a high-pitched scream outside, but we didn’t put much thought into it,” one teenage resident told NBC 7.
Now, detectives from the SDPD Sex Crimes unit have released two surveillance images of a person of interest seen walking in the area at the time of the assault. Police are hoping someone will recognize the man so they can track him down for questioning.
For now, the assault case – the sixth of its kind in the North Park community this summer – remains under investigation. Anyone with information on the case should contact Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477 or the SDPD Sex Crimes Unit at (619) 531-2210.
North Park resident Ofelia Cruz lives above the alley where the latest assault occurred. The news has her extremely worried for her own safety.
“I’m going to pay more attention to see around because it’s not safe anymore,” Cruz told NBC 7.
Due to the nature of the attack, location and time of day, detectives believe this sixth case may be related to the others.
The first assault in this series was reported on June 11, when a woman told police she was thrown to the ground by an attacker on 33rd Street. One week later, on June 17, another woman reported fighting off two assailants as she walked on Meade Avenue near 33rd Place around 11:30 p.m.
One June 21, a woman walking along Lincoln Avenue at 9:20 p.m. also reported that two men attempted to assault her. On June 24, a woman walking along Lincoln Avenue near Oregon Street was knocked unconscious after a suspect attacked her from behind.
Then, on July 20, yet another woman was knocked out while walking near the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Kansas Street around 1:20 a.m.
In an effort to catch the suspects involved in these violent, seemingly random attacks, police had previously released surveillance images and a composite sketch of a person of interest. The SDPD also said it had staffed more officers in the neighborhood to keep an eye on the streets.
Meanwhile, residents have organized rallies to send a message to the suspects and reclaim their community.
On Saturday, residents gathered for a meeting at the North Park Lions Club on Utah Street at noon to discuss possible long term solutions to help curb the violence.
One of the attendees was Kendra Smith, a woman who said she was the victim of a similar assault back in May almost at the very same spot as the latest case.
“I felt something behind me and I was lifted up off of my feet – I was in a chokehold. I was up in the air and I was being suffocated,” Smith recalled. “He then punched me on the side of the face with his other arm then dropped me to the ground, which is when he lost grip of his arm around my throat and I was able to start screaming. My phone fell down in front me I instantly called 911 and he ran away."
Smith said the attack left her nervous, but very alert.
“When I'm walking to the market or doing anything outside I'm always aware. It doesn't matter if its dark, light, dusk, whatever. It is hard," she said.
Smith said her attacker was different from the man in the newly-released surveillance photos.
SDPD Capt. David Nisleeit said the suspect or suspects are likely very familiar with the area.
“This person either lives in this area, works in this area or visits this area quite a bit. So I truly believe someone knows who this is,” said Nisleeit.
At the meeting, residents raised concerns about graffiti and lack of street lighting in the community, and how those factors might make North Park vulnerable to assaults.
For her part, Smith said she hopes to connect with other victims of violence.
“I'd like to meet with these other women because I've been proactive from day one since I was attacked and the last thing I want is more women to get attacked,” she said. “And yet, it still happens.”