A Western Washington University student was assaulted on campus early Tuesday morning, authorities said Tuesday night.
No indication was made of any possible connection to a white man in his 20s who Bellingham Police said is suspected in some two dozen cases of voyeurism and lewd conduct over the past several months at WWU and in neighborhoods surrounding the campus.
“There have been a number of incidents, but with this one it’s hard to say,” WWU Police Chief Darin Rasmussen said Wednesday. “I’m not going to rule it out. It doesn’t seem similar to the other events, other than it happened at night.”
University officials issued a campus-wide alert via text message at 11:44 p.m. Tuesday about the incident, which was reported to police at 9:20 p.m. – more than 20 hours after the incident occurred.
A subsequent WWU email described the assault in greater detail, without naming the student.
University police said the student told officers she was walking from Wilson Library to Nash Hall on the east High Street sidewalk just after midnight Tuesday when a man rushed up from behind, reached around her torso and grabbed her breasts.
“The student then felt two hands, which appeared to be male with light-colored skin, reach around her and grasp her breasts,” the WWU email said. “The student elbowed the suspect, and she heard a deep male voice make a grunting sound. The suspect then ran off southbound into the trees toward Wilson Library.”
Rasmussen said he didn’t know why the woman waited so long to report the incident. Sexual assault victims often are embarrassed and reluctant to discuss an incident, no matter the severity.
“Everybody deals with grief and shock and trauma differently,” Rasmussen said, adding an immediate 911 call can bring officers to the scene quickly.
After the assault, which occurred near a crosswalk with an emergency telephone, the student walked to her dorm and discussed the incident with a friend. She notified police nearly a full day later.
Rasmussen said as soon as he learned of the assault, he contacted another Western official to issue the text message alert. Since the incident was nearly a day old and there was no imminent threat, he said university officials wanted to gather as much information as possible before issuing the campus-wide alert.
“We try to put out information as quickly as possible. But we want to make sure that we’re putting out good and accurate information,” the chief said.
University public safety assistants, called “Greencoats,” are available to escort students or others on campus during evening hours by calling 360-650-3555 or by dialing 3911 from a campus phone. WWU Police are at 3911 or 911, or anonymously at 360-650-7233.
Tips can also be sent to Bellingham Police Detective Sue Howell at 360-778-8682, anonymously at 360-778-8611, or online at cob.org/tips.