Crime

Ocean Springs police appeal for help in bridge rape

WAVE - Women Against Violence Everywhere - has held walks and awareness vigils and is helping the city push for security cameras on the Biloxi Bay Bridge after a woman was raped there last year.
WAVE - Women Against Violence Everywhere - has held walks and awareness vigils and is helping the city push for security cameras on the Biloxi Bay Bridge after a woman was raped there last year. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

OCEAN SPRINGS -- Temperatures had dipped below freezing the night she was raped on the Biloxi Bay Bridge.

She said she was alone when her rapist attacked, and she did what she could to survive the Nov. 19, 2014, assault on the Ocean Springs side of the bridge.

On most nights, the bridge's walking path is bustling with other walkers but that night, police said, others had stayed in because of the cold.

It's been thirteen months, and Ocean Springs police are appealing to residents for tips to find the woman's attacker.

"No one who was identified as a person of interest in this case has been a DNA match," Ocean Springs Police Chief Mark Dunston said. "Because of the transient nature of the Coast, there is no telling where he came from. Anyone who has thoughts about this matter, no matter how insignificant, please call. It may be something that leads us to the suspect."

Dunston and Capt. William Jackson said 13 men were on the suspect list, but a DNA analysis cleared them.

Rapist on the bridge

The woman, who speaks little English and relied on her husband to translate questions from police, said she was attacked about 8:30 p.m.

She was halfway up the Ocean Springs side of the bridge, the police report says, when the rapist, coming from the Biloxi side, walked past her.

Seconds later, the report said, he "turned and grabbed her, forcing her to the ground face down and raped her from behind."

The woman said she didn't struggle because her attacker had his hands around her neck and she feared he'd strangle her or throw her off the bridge.

She also had nowhere to go safely. Her options were to jump into the water or go over the other railing into eastbound traffic.

Either option could have meant her death.

After the assault, the report says, the man let her go but followed her back down the bridge toward Ocean Springs. She said he was shouting obscenities at her but ran when she got near the Ocean Springs Yacht Club.

The woman drove home and told her husband what had happened. He dialed 911, the report says, then took her to Ocean Springs Hospital for a rape examination.

The woman described her rapist as black, about 30 years old, tall and thin and wearing blue jeans, a gray jacket with orange accents and a blue ball cap with MIAMI in orange lettering.

When police launched their investigation, they received tips "from all over the place," Dunston said. But the leads have dried up and the case has grown cold.

He said police have found no evidence to link the rape to another sexual assault reported Sept. 10 at a Holcomb Boulevard apartment complex. A Biloxi man is in custody in that attack.

"Anything that anyone out there thinks they might have about this case, please let us know," he said.

No other sexual assault

Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Biloxi Bay Bridge in 2005, but it was rebuilt and reopened in November 2007. The rape last year, Dunston said, is the only crime that's been reported on the Ocean Springs side of the new bridge.

Police have received 13 reports of car burglaries in a parking lot near the foot of the bridge.

On the Biloxi side, Police Chief John Miller said, officers have received one report each of a domestic assault, indecent exposure, public drunk and discharging a firearm, along with six cases of property damage, one suicide and one DUI-related death. In addition, he said, police have made 20 DUI-related arrests and investigated six welfare concerns. Miller noted the crimes reported on the Biloxi side encompass the land around the foot of the bridge.

Security cameras

After the bridge rape was reported, six Ocean Springs women came together and formed WAVE -- Women Against Violence Everywhere. The group has held walks and awareness vigils and is helping the city push for security cameras on the bridge.

Robin Cooley, a WAVE co-founder, said the group so far has raised $2,700 for the security cameras but more is needed.

"We really feel like the cameras could not only catch things that are happening but also deter things from happening," she said. "Just putting the sign out letting people know they are being monitored is going to help."

The total for the project is $10,000 and WAVE has opened an account with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation for this purpose. Donations may be mailed to Gulf Coast Community Foundation, 11975 Seaway Road, B-150, Gulfport MS 39503. Contributors should indicate the donation is for WAVE.

"We are trying to find ways to combat crime and we do appreciate the support," Cooley said.

To report information, call the Ocean Springs Police Department at 875-2211 or Crime Stoppers at 1-877-787-5898, text CSTIP plus your message to 274637 or log on to mscoastcrimestoppers.com. Cash rewards of up to $1,000 are available for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. All calls are confidential.

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