Springfield residents take steps to thwart groper

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More than a dozen groping incidents have occurred since September in this area in suburban Springfield. (Examiner interactive map by Naomi Jagoda.) Local,Virginia,Crime,Naomi Jagoda,Taylor Holland

Some residents of the Springfield area of Fairfax County, which has been plagued by a series of more than a dozen gropings, say they're changing their habits to avoid becoming the groper's next victim.

At least 14 women have been approached from behind on area streets and groped since September, and police believe the same man is responsible for the attacks. The groper is typically described as a fairly short Hispanic man in his 20s or 30s, often wearing a red baseball cap, who runs off after the attack.

"The excitement for this person is almost getting caught. He's just having a good old time with himself."
-- Thomas Mauriello, criminologist

Officers have made no arrests in the case.

Many of the 14 reported incidents have taken place during the day, some as early as 9 a.m., and most of the assaults have occurred on local roads surrounding Springfield Plaza.

"It seems like he's escalating and it seems like he's getting braver," said Springfield resident Alan Roman, who lives a few blocks from where many of the attacks have occurred. "Everybody's concerned about it. It's a discouraging situation."

14 attacks
» Dec. 13 - Woman, 43, walking on the 6000 block of Hibbling Avenue
» Dec. 13 - Woman, 23, walking on Floyd Avenue near Erving Street
» Dec. 11 - Woman, 49, running along Blarney Stone Drive near Omega Court
» Nov. 19 - Woman, 23, walking on the 7200 block of Commerce Street
» Nov. 1 - Woman, 42, on the 6000 block of Hibbling Avenue
» Nov. 1 - Woman, 23, at a bus stop on the 7200 block of Commerce Street
» Oct. 25 - Woman, no age given, on Lake Pleasant Drive near Edinburgh Drive
» Oct. 2 - Girl, 15, on the 6200 block of Hibbling Avenue
» Sept. 27 - Girl, 17, on the 5900 block of Erving Street
Sept. 19 - Woman, 40, walking along Hibbling Avenue near Exmore Street
» Sept. 18 - Girl, 16, walking on the 6700 block of Metropolitan Center Drive
» Between Sept. 9 and 13 - Woman, 25, walking on Cumberland Drive near Dinwiddie Street
» Sept. 7 - Woman, 26, walking on the 7200 block of Monticello Boulevard

Source: Fairfax County Police Department

Roman said his family is doing things differently now. He has started walking his 25-year-old daughter to her car because of safety concerns and now accompanies his wife when she leaves the house to walk the family's dog.

At least eight of the attacks have occurred on roads that surround Old Keene Mill Road near the shopping center. The area is not heavily wooded, however, and is filled with hundreds of low-to-middle-income, single-story homes and apartment complexes.

It's unclear whether the man lives in the neighborhood, which is predominantly multicultural. Although the Franconia-Springfield Metro station sits more than two miles from the shopping center, Metrobuses and the Fairfax Connector both service the area.

Springfield is usually a relatively low-crime location, resident Jeff Salino said, and the three-plus months of crime might have caught some residents off-guard. "Of course we're concerned," he told The Washington Examiner.

Fairfax County police spokesman Officer Eddy Azcarate said it has been difficult to nab the man because the incidents are so brief. "The assault itself takes but a moment," Azcarate said.

Thomas Mauriello, a lecturer in the University of Maryland's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said the culprit may attack during the day and dress conspicuously because he wants attention.

"The excitement for this person is almost getting caught," Mauriello said. "He's just having a good old time with himself."

Police have distributed fliers about the assaults in the area and say they've knocked on many residents' doors to inform them of the gropings.

"The detectives have practically been living out there," Azcarate said, noting that the victim in Thursday morning's incident flagged down an officer before she could call 911.

All people with information on these assaults, or who may have been victims themselves, can contact Crime Solvers by phone at 866-411-TIPS (8477), by email at fairfaxcrimesolvers.org or by texting "TIP187" plus a message to 274637.

Contact Taylor Holland at tholland@washingtonexaminer.com. Contact Naomi Jagoda at njagoda@washingtonexaminer.com.

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