Officials battle rumors as search continues

Published 7:40 pm Friday, January 14, 2011

Troy Police have released a composite sketch of the suspect sought in the abduction and attack of a Troy University student earlier this week.

Troy University and local police took steps Friday to quell rumors spawned by the attack earlier this week on a Troy University student.

“There’s an ongoing rumor that … ranges from ‘this was the second attack’ to ‘there’s been another attack’ or ‘there’s been a kidnap or a murder,’ with a student named who doesn’t exist,” said Clif Lusk, who works with university relations.

“Years ago you had the coffee shop talk,” he added. “Now, it’s on email and it goes viral and there’s no way to counteract it, other than to make the statement that it isn’t true.”

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And it isn’t, say both Troy Police and Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr.

“It is a rumor and it needs to be dealt with as a rumor,” said Troy Police Sgt. Benny Scarbrough. “To my knowledge, and the knowledge of the other law enforcements agencies I deal with, there has been no other attack.”

Police are still searching for the man who abducted at 20-year-old Troy University student from her Smith Street home shortly after 9:30 p.m. Monday; stole her car; beat and stabbed her; and then left her on a remote county road in the Needmore community, where the vehicle ran out of gas. The woman is recovering in a Montgomery hospital, and police have released a composite sketch of the suspect who faces attempted murder and first-degree kidnapping charges.

On Friday, Hawkins sent an email message to “a myriad of people,” including students, Lusk said. In that message, the chancellor reiterated the university’s commitment to safety; to helping find the suspected attacker; and to offsetting additional rumors.

“Reports circulating on the Internet this week claim that another Troy student has been attacked,” Hawkins wrote. “Let me discredit that rumor in the strongest possible terms. If another assault had been reported, we would have responded as we did to the original incident, by notifying students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community.”

The university has been issuing daily safety messages and reminders to the students, faculty and staff, including a message on Friday from Dean of Students Herbert Reeves outlining upcoming personal safety courses and reinforcing the university’s tips and messages for taking precautions and enhancing personal safety.

“I want to encourage you to remain vigilant in your activities and daily routines,” Reeves said in the email. “While our campus and city remain among the safest in the state, each person taking a few moments to make a personal safety assessment is essential.”

Reeves also highlighted two upcoming RAD self-defense courses offered to female students; free counseling services available; the night shuttle available to students Monday through Thursday nights; emergency kiosks located throughout campus; and a SGA Town Hall meeting on safety scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Trojan Center ballrooms.

Lusk said university representatives have been fielding calls throughout the week from concerned parents, as well. “Many of them want to know what they can do or what we’re doing here,” he said.

In addition to the cooperation in urging students to take personal precautions, the university and Troy Police collaborated on a flyer, which will be distributed throughout the city and campus. It includes a sketch of the suspect, along with the physical description provided by police (an African-American man, in his mid-30s, weighing 180 to 200 pounds, about 5 foot 8 to 6 feet tall, having a flat nose, light facial hair and strong body odor) and contact numbers for anyone who has seen the man to call.

“We’re going to put it up in stores, convenience stores, around town,” Scarbrough said.

He also said law enforcement officers have been responding to several reports generated by the release of the composite sketch of the suspect on Thursday.

“We’re following up on every one of these,” he said.

Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to call the Troy Police at 334-566-0500; the Secret Witness Line at 334-566-5555; or the Pike County Sheriff’s Department at 334-566-4347.