Apr, 17, 2008
Supporters of alleged rape victim surprised by news, but say problem is real
Community members who rallied behind a woman who told police she was kidnapped and then raped during a run on a trail near Little Squalicum Beach were in disbelief Wednesday when they learned that police said she had made it all up.
“My first reaction was just ‘wow.’ But knowing that crimes against women do exist in our community, it doesn’t change anything for me,” said Gerry Ebalaroza-Tunnell, a Bellingham resident and martial artist who offered to teach self-defense classes for women after the unidentified runner reported being attacked on March 2.
“The thing that I look at is that regardless of whether she fabricated the story or not, our community came together in our time of need. I hope that this unfortunate circumstance is not going to harden the hearts of our community,” she said.
Three of the classes that Ebalaroza-Tunnell is teaching through Whatcom County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services are full, with a waiting list of 40 women.
“It’s very sad that someone would need to go to that length to get attention,” said Sara Kamp, a Bellingham mother of two who recently started a running club partly because she felt she could no longer run alone on area trails.
But Kamp, like others interviewed, didn’t focus on the false rape report.
“If anything positive came out of it, it just shows what kind of community Bellingham is, how people reach out to other people and make everyone safe,” Kamp said. Reach out the community did.
DVSAS and others organized a “Take Back Our Trails” 5K run and walk on March 30 in which about 600 runners and walkers traveled the same route that the woman reported taking when she was abducted. Some of the participants heard an eloquent statement written by the woman that was read to the crowd. Some of them even cried over it.
A fund was set up for her through Peoples Bank branches.
And, for weeks afterward, women who liked to run or otherwise be outdoors alone talked in low tones as they weighed the risks of continuing to do so, according to Genevie Roguski, co-owner of Fairhaven Runners & Walkers, who is among the women who liked going alone.
After all, Roguski said, things can happen regardless of the precautions people take.
Eventually, she came up with her own mantra: “I’m not going to be foolish, I won’t be afraid.”
Roguski added: “I think that’s incredibly sad that’s happened. Obviously, this woman has some difficult things that she has to work through. I’m really sad that hysteria was stirred up in the community afterwards.”
Meanwhile, neighborhood groups that had banded together to resolve “jurisdictional confusion” over the area and to improve safety there will continue those efforts, member Flip Breskin said.
Breskin said concerned citizens who called 911 in the past found themselves caught between agencies that didn’t agree on who was in charge.
Participants from the various neighborhoods are known collectively as the Safety at Little Squalicum Action Group. Members also track activity in the area.
“We have very clear evidence that the area is a problem. Because whether or not that horrific thing happened, a whole lot of stuff happens,” Breskin said. “People who spend a lot of time down there or live next door to it have been aware of real problems down there for decades.”
Police: Woman jogger made up alleged rape
BELLINGHAM — UPDATED AT 4:08 P.M. — A woman who told police a stranger attacked, abducted and raped her during a morning run on Little Squalicum Beach last month fabricated the story, police said Wednesday.
The woman, who had recently moved to Bellingham, told police she was running on a trail March 2 near near the beach when someone attcked her from behind, putting a bag over her head, throwing her to the ground and kicking her head and body.
Simon said officers would expect to find some sign of a struggle, such as displaced items or drag marks, in addition to the victim’s scent, blood or items used in the crime.
Posted: April 16, 2008 15:33:07 PST
Media Contact: Deputy Chief Flo Simon
The Take Back Our Trails 5K Run/Walk was organized by the Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County in response to the beating and rape of a woman runner at Little Squalicum Beach.
The event took place at about the same general time and same day of the week that the assault occurred.
Women and girls have the right to be safe anywhere in Whatcom County and this was a chance for the community to join together in support of safe trails, safe streets, and safe homes for women.
The course wound along a portion of one of my favorite neighborhood trails and beaches where I often walk - the Squalicum Creek Trail and Little Squalicum Beach.
Registration was free, however donations were accepted to help cover the cost of the event and to help support their services.
The following, from the Bellingham Herald
The woman who was assaulted March 2 while running on a trail near Little Squalicum Beach wrote this statement, which was read Sunday at the Take Back Our Trails 5K Run/Walk. This is the victim’s first public statement. It appears with only minor editing.
It just happened over a cup of tea that still hurts with every swallow with my swollen face, a constant reminder of my worst nightmare. I am the girl from the newspapers.
A nurse is starting an IV, is eyeing the marks on my wrists where the zip ties held me prisoner through the unthinkable. As a nurse, I know what she suspects.
“I am the girl in the newspapers,” I blankly state.
“Oh honey!!!” Her tone changed, eyes softening, and she ran her gloved fingers tenderly over the broken skin. I flinched from the stinging pain.
I am the girl from the newspapers. I am the girl who seems to have stirred a community to a new state of alertness, in some cases anger, in some cases compassion.
It all seems so unreal — and is only magnified by the fact that this community is new to me.
There is so much more to me than I will ever be able to write in one sitting.
I am a nurse, a yoga instructor, a volunteer EMT, a wannabe artist, a good friend, a mother of two dogs, a long-distance runner, one helluva skier … and just so much more.
It had been ages since I laced up my running shoes.
My “Prozac” was often how I referred to my running.
The one thing that had always kept my head above water.
I knew I had to take action and do it now — I had to get out and run this funk out of my body.
I pulled on my dowdy running digs, tied my hair back and tucked the long ponytail in — a precaution I always took … look as plain as you can out on the trails, try not to attract attention.
I started out the door — sun on my face — oh … sun on my face ….
I felt immeasurably better, just from the solar warmth penetrating, reaching those places that had seemed so dark and cold the past few months.
My route brought me to a beach that I had walked the dogs down to a couple of times.
Islands in the distance … all the shades of blue represented.
It looked just as perfect as any Puget Sound postcard.
I felt my stomach lighten a little at the beauty.
“This is why we moved here,” I reminded myself…
The end of the beach offered a few choices from which one could return via a few trails. Choices.
And I made one this day which would change my life forever.
Sorry to leave the magical power of the water but excited to try out a trail I had never run before, I ran forward.
And that was it. A heavy piece of clothing was suddenly over my head and shoulders. I was confused. “What the???”
The details don’t matter. They are only upsetting.
But I am changed now. Sitting with my tea and my swollen body, typing on my laptop … with a new identity … … the girl in the newspapers.
RUNNER’S FUND - An account has been established to help the woman who was assaulted while running near Little Squalicum Beach on March 2. The Squalicum Beach Runner’s Fund at Peoples Bank branches was set up by community members who want to supplement state victim assistance funds to help the woman cover her lost wages, living expenses and other costs associated with surviving the attack. Donations to the fund may be made at any Peoples Bank branch.
Hundreds Join Take Back Our Trails - event in wake of rape, beating.
KIE RELYEA, BELLINGHAM — Before she became “the girl from the newspapers” because she was brutally attacked as she ran near Little Squalicum Beach, she was a nurse, a skier and yoga instructor. Before she left the beach that Sunday morning to explore a new trail in the new city she called home, she was not the rallying point for a community. But she was on Sunday when an estimated crowd of 600 showed up to walk or run part of the route she had taken March 2, the day she was abducted, beaten into unconsciousness and raped.
Before the participants set out for the Take Back Our Trails 5K Run/Walk, they heard the unidentified woman’s statement read to them by Alison Dalton and broadcast over loudspeakers. Dalton is a staff advocate for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County, which organized the run and walk. The crowd was silenced by the 39-year-old victim’s words, which marked her first public statement. She detailed setting out to run off the blahs, to enjoy the warmth of the sun, to admire magical island views — only to have a beautiful day darkened by tragedy that would give her a new, unwanted identity.
“I am the girl from the newspapers. I am the girl who seems to have stirred a community to a new state of alertness, in some cases anger, in some cases compassion,” Dalton read to the crowd, some of whom were crying.
“There is so much more to me than I will ever be able to write in one sitting. I am a nurse, a yoga instructor, a volunteer EMT, a wannabe artist, a good friend, a mother of two dogs, a long-distance runner, one helluva skier … and just so much more.”
She could not identify her attacker or attackers. No arrests have been made in the assault, after which the woman was left below the end of Cherry Street near West Street.
After Dalton read the statement, the crowd set out from Bellingham Technical College a little after 10:45 a.m., about the same time that the woman left her home the day she was attacked. The crowd looked like a human river coursing down Lindbergh Avenue until just before Eldridge Avenue, where runners and walkers turned right to go on the trail. They said they were there because they wanted the woman to know she wasn’t alone, that they wouldn’t go quietly after such an attack in their community, that they wanted to be able to do something with their outrage and their sorrow.
They showed up wearing pink T-shirts that read “Every woman is my sister” and shirts promoting a martial arts studio. They showed up with their children, who waited patiently in strollers for the start.
Ferndale resident Donna Gilday, 29, was one of them. She was pushing her 17-month-old son, Cole, in a stroller along with four of her friends and their children. “I just want to be a part of taking a stand against something like this happening. It’s horrible,” Gilday said of the attack. “I love all the trails that Bellingham offers. They’re all great. And we don’t want to be scared to go on them, huh?” said Gilday, directing the last sentence to her son in his stroller.
Matt Slater, 23, was among those who ran the route. He was there to be part of an event that was a “great community builder” and because he wanted to “say something about something that was so tragic.”
Galen Emanuele, a 28-year-old Bellingham resident, also ran. News of the attack was a shock, he said, but the event allowed him to take action. “It was something I could do,” he said.
Bellingham resident Michelle Beauchene, 26, plays indoor soccer and until Sunday had never taken part in an organized run. She had read about the attack in the newspaper, she said, and realized this was “not a community that would sit down and take something like this.” Beauchene heard the runner’s emotional statement read over the loudspeakers. “It’s very inspiring,” she said. “I hope she feels that everyone’s behind her, people she didn’t even know.”
Karen Burke, a recreational runner and executive director of DVSAS, estimated that 500-600 people participated. So many, in fact, that organizers quickly went through the 200 registration forms they brought for those who wanted to sign up the day of the event. About 350 people had pre-registered for the run/walk. Others went without signing up.
Runners and walkers told Burke they were there because they wanted to take a stand and to make their community safer. “I’m completely overwhelmed by the numbers,” said Burke, who ran the course. “It’s incredible.”
Some photos by Bellingham Herald photographers.