Prineville police look into sexual assault

Reported attack near high school sparks concern, rumors; suspect sought

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: December 15. 2006 5:00AM PST

The Prineville Police Department says it’s investigating a sexual assault that was reported Thursday morning in the neighborhood near Crook County High School and caused a flurry of concern at local schools, Prineville Police Chief Eric Bush said.

At about 6 a.m. Thursday, Prineville police officers responded to the report at a residence a few blocks from the high school, Bush said. The suspect, who was said to be armed with a knife and fled before police arrived, is still at large, according to a news release from the Prineville Police Department.

Police say the victim is an 18-year-old woman. Bush said he does not think she is a high school student.

He added that he does not want to release details about the investigation, such as whether there were signs of forced entry or whether the woman knew the suspect.

But police did say in the news release that the victim could not identify her assailant, who was described as being between 17 and 24 years old, 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 9 inches tall and wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and dark blue jeans.

The Bend Police Department was called in to use a dog to track the suspect, and the Oregon State Police and Crook County Sheriff’s Office also responded to the scene.

The police activity close to the school stirred parents’ concerns and sent rumors flying, Bush said. It also prompted Crook County Middle School, which is a little less than half a mile from the site of the alleged crime, to hold a lockdown drill, its first this semester.

“We haven’t had a lockdown drill yet this fall, so I thought, you know, this would be a good opportunity to be cautious on our part, just make sure we’re being safe and just go through a practice lockdown drill,” Crook County Middle School Principal Rocky Miner said. “Things were safe and calm; it actually was always safe and calm.”

Bush said the incident had nothing to do with either Crook County Middle School or Crook County High School.

“People saw all the police activity, got concerned, and so the middle school actually did a practice lockdown drill on their own. At the time it seemed like, ‘Hey, why not, it’s always good to practice,’ but it actually exacerbated people’s concerns,” Bush said. “The whole rumor thing kind of got out of hand. There was a lot of misinformation going around.”

At about 10 a.m. Thursday, Crook County School District Superintendent Steve Swisher sent an e-mail to school board members and others informing them of the incident. Swisher said his concern was based on the fact that the suspect had not been apprehended.

“Our main concern was discerning whether there was any immediate danger to our students or not,” Swisher said. “We always start with that presumption, that there could be, and then try to discover is it really or not, and it might be because we had an alleged crime, and the perpetrator was not captured or hadn’t been identified.”

Miner said that when he arrived at school at about 7 a.m., a police officer who was waiting in the parking lot asked him to bring students inside instead of allowing them to wait outside until the start of school.

The school then conducted a lockdown drill during the first period of the day, during which the teachers locked their classroom doors and a school resources officer and school administrators went through the school to check the doors. The drill took about 10 minutes, Miner said. The school usually has one or two lockdown drills a year.

Miner said he addressed students over the school’s intercom to let them know what was going on and allow them to call their parents using cell phones. The school fielded some calls from parents Thursday morning, but no students left school.

“Parents were already being contacted by students, and some of the things that were being said were rumors, so I told the staff and the students over the intercom what the facts were, and I gave them permission to call parents during that first period to let them know what was rumor (and) what was fact,” Miner said.

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