The investigation into a sex assault reported almost two weeks ago in Fallbrook has shifted dramatically, authorities said, after the victim changed her description of how she was attacked.
Initially, the victim told San Diego County sheriff's deputies that she was pushing a child in a stroller near Lake Shore Park on April 23 when a man jumped from the bushes holding a knife.
Now, officials say the woman's story has changed.
Investigators said the assault didn't happen on the trail, the suspect did not jump from the bushes and he did not carry a knife.
“Our investigation has determined, thus far, this is not quite how it was reported,” Jan Caldwell of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department explained. “[The investigation] is still ongoing, so there’s a lot that detectives are still trying to ascertain. It will probably involve a trip out of state to talk to the suspect”
An artist worked with the woman to create a suspect sketch.
Officials described the suspect as over 6 feet tall with a beer belly. He has neatly trimmed dark hair and a full mustache and beard cut high on the neck, deputies said. He was wearing a black T-shirt with holes and black work pants.
They are now saying the suspect was known to the victim and lives out of state. Officials said the woman may still be a victim, however, no matter the circumstances.
In a written statement Tuesday, sheriff's investigators said, "the incident previously described did not take place and there is no danger to the community as a result."
These new developments left Fallbrook residents feeling relieved, but also angry and confused.
People living the neighborhood near Lake Shore Park said they have been fearful about walking the trail since the assault was first reported, with some avoiding the trail altogether.
“It kind of changed the way people did things [like walk the trail],” resident Kristen Wolff told NBC 7 Tuesday. “I kind of feel like the rug has been sort of pulled out from under me a little bit. Everybody came together and was really worried about this poor lady. And, so now, she’s not being honest, she’s telling a different story and there are a lot of angry people.”
Residents told NBC 7 they have no idea why someone would tell a story of being attacked only to later change their story.
“I’m relieved and angry at the same time, I would say,” said neighbor Michael Starks. “With the crying wolf – what is she? A victim or was she not a victim? And who’s going to believe her now that she recanted her story?”
“I just hope they get to the bottom of this and find out why she did that. It is unsettling,” added Wolff.
Unsettling as this unfolding case might be, residents also expressed compassion, knowing the victim may not have been totally forthcoming to protect herself or someone else, and realizing she may still be a victim.
Still, neighbors want to know if the woman will be held accountable for not being entirely truthful to authorities.
“There are ramifications for doing such a thing, but that’s jumping ahead of the game,” Caldwell said. “Let’s take this where it is now, let the professionals do their jobs and see where we are at the end of the day.”
Authorities want the public to know there is not someone out there posing a threat to people on the Fallbrook trail, though it’s always good to be aware of your surroundings while walking or jogging.