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by Gregg MacDonald

Staff Writer

The “serial groper” of Springfield may have struck for the 23rd time within the county on the same day Fairfax County police held a community meeting about him that was attended by more than 200 concerned area residents.

On Thursday, a 26-year-old woman reported to police that as she was walking on Bauer Road near Old Keene Mill Road around 3 p.m. when she heard someone behind her, then felt someone grab her behind before fleeing. The woman’s description of her assaulter—Hispanic, late 20s, 5-feet-7-inches tall and wearing a baseball cap— fits well within the assortment of varied other descriptions given by 22 separate women assaulted over the last six months.

Four hours after Thursday’s assault, police held a community meeting in Springfield at Crestwood Elementary School to discuss the groper and how they are attempting to bring him to justice.

Addressing the nearly 250 area residents at the Thursday meeting was Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, who set the evening’s tone by telling the community that the police needs its help to apprehend the groper.

“I’d be a lot more concerned if I walked in here tonight and there were only four to five people here,” he said. “We need your help. It’s a big county and to get to the bottom of this, we need to work together.”

Franconia District Police Station Commander Captain Jim Baumstark then took over, explaining to those in attendance the obstacles that police are facing in addressing the ever-increasing number of assaults concentrated primarily in a 1.25-mile radius around the greater Springfield area.

“There are 27,000 residents in greater Springfield,” he said. “And the Franconia District spans 38 square miles. We have canvassed neighborhoods door-to-door, approached the business community and the Spanish-speaking community, used helicopters, K-9s, officers on bicycles, both uniformed and plain clothed officers, and acted on countless tips and leads.”

Baumstark said that in addition to the logistical difficulties of such a manhunt, the case is further compounded by the fact that the suspected groper in all incidents has chosen victims who are alone without any independent witnesses to help with a description. “This guy is lucky. I am flabbergasted that we have not caught him yet,” he said.

Police say the descriptions that have been given by victims who have turned around only to see the suspect fleeing, are so varied that it is nearly impossible to pinpoint a single suspect.

“He has been described as being anywhere from 5’ 4” to 5’ 9”, between 20 to 40 years old, both light and dark skinned, with a beard, a goatee, or clean shaven. And described as being white, Hispanic and Middle Eastern,” Baumstark said.

In addition, Baumstark added that there seems to be no logical pattern to when the groper strikes.

“There have been two assaults in one day and then a month between occurrences,” he said. “This guy also seems to really know the area,” he said. “He escapes in different directions each time and knows the streets…We want to catch this guy every bit as much as you do. We really want to catch this guy.”

Baumstark said police have received “countless” tips, but so far do not have a suspect.

“I’m not even sure it is one person,” he said.

What police do know, according to police detective Tiffany Horton, is that all his victims have been women between the ages of 15 and 49, white, black and Hispanic. “They have all been alone, primarily walking on sidewalks and streets,” she said. “He also appears to hit on warmer days,” added Baumstark. “He doesn’t like the cold, which is one reason we are concerned with spring and warmer days ahead.”

According to police, the groper has so far committed only “simple assaults” that are legally classified as class one misdemeanors, coming up behind his victims, groping them and then fleeing. “They have been assaults and not attacks,” said police public information officer Lucy Caldwell, adding that sexual gratification needs to be evident to classify a crime as a sexual assault.

“This guy has been doing basically the same thing for six months and there is nothing that points to him escalating his crimes to the level of abduction or a rape,” Baumstark said. “He has not assaulted an elementary school or middle-school-aged child yet, but we have made this case a priority and we are doing everything we can to put an end to these crimes.”

Police urge anyone with information to call Fairfax County Police at 703-691-2131.

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com