'Town Meeting' on Security Planned after Carjacking, Rape at Rutgers

The carjacking and rape of a 19-year-old Rutgers student this week, combined with another recent rape nearby, has rattled the university, long considered a safe haven in Camden.

Both students and administrators said today that they were horrified to hear of the daylight abduction Monday of the second-year student from Maple Shade.

The woman was carjacked at knifepoint as she was getting ready for class and later raped elsewhere, authorities said.

They are investigating whether the crime may be related to the recent rape of a high school girl in the same vicinity of downtown Camden, although the link did not appear strong as of late yesterday.

Regardless, the incidents, combined with Camden's recent designation as the nation's most dangerous city by publisher Morgan Quitno, had students looking over their shoulders.

Holly Jo Kosmalski, a 27-year-old graduate student from Philadelphia, said classmates were talking about the crime in class.

"Thank God I only come to this campus one day per week," she said. "I don't walk alone. This is a real wake-up call."

The administration has planned a "town meeting" on campus security for students 12:15 p.m. Monday.

"We're telling them that they ought to be rightly concerned about themselves," said Rutgers' Provost Roger Dennis.

The latest attack began about 2:45 p.m. Monday, authorities said, when a man approached the Rutgers student near her car, which was parked at a meter on Pearl Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets.

Nearby are the university's administrative services area, a parking lot and pedestrian tunnel leading to North Camden.

Preparing for a 2:50 p.m. class, the woman had put money in the meter and was returning to her car for books when she was confronted, authorities said.

The attacker ordered her to drive to a dead-end street on the 600 block of Woodland Avenue in South Camden where he assaulted her, authorities said.

He then forced her to drive to a spot on Interstate 676 and ordered her out of the car.

The woman flagged a passing motorist who drove her to Eighth Street near Woodlynne Avenue, where they found a Camden police officer.

Police broadcast an alert for the car, and Delaware River Port Authority officers found it at Willard and Elm streets in North Camden.

Standing by it was a man who had borrowed the keys and may be a passing acquaintance of the suspect, police said. He was charged with attempting to steal items from the car.

Detectives described the suspect as a Hispanic male in his mid-20s, clean-shaven, of medium height, with pock marks on the sides of his face. He was wearing a black jacket, blue jeans and black gloves.

It is not clear if the suspect is the same man involved in a rape of the 17-year-old honors student who was on her way to school Nov. 8 at the LEAP Academy University Charter School near Fourth and Market Streets.

In that incident, a man approached her near the steps of the federal courthouse, pulled out a knife, and forced her into a nearby alley, where he raped her.

She described her attacker as white, in his mid-20s, about 5-foot-9, with brown eyes and scruffy facial hair. He was wearing all-black clothing with a hooded sweatshirt and carrying a dark backpack.

Camden, Rutgers and DRPA police have since deployed extra patrols in the area.

Dennis, the university's provost, said school officials are in touch with Monday's victim and offering counseling.

"She's home and she's upset, he said.

Dennis said additional armed officers have been deployed on and around campus the past few weeks.

The 40-acre campus has 5,750 students and 700 employees. The university's own police department, with a $2.3 million annual budget, has 20 full-time commissioned officers, 17 security guards, and 29 community service officers.

"I'm very concerned," said May Mazahreh, a 20-year-old Rutgers junior who parks in a campus lot. She takes a campus-provided shuttle back and forth for security.

"I've become more aware of my surroundings," she said. "I'm more aware of Camden's reputation."

She was having coffee outside with her cousin, Ansam Mazahreh, a 21-year-old nursing student, who attends Camden County College's city campus a few blocks away.

Ansam Mazahreh said she feels safe on the campuses, but remains "aware" of the surroundings.

Neither have considered leaving the schools over safety concerns.

Jaqueline Nunez, a 23-year-old economics major from Camden, said she feels safe on campus.

"I'm surprised," she said of learning of the rape. "Perhaps I'll be a little more cautious."