BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - A series of sexual assaults has now led investigators to set up a special task force. On Wednesday, officials also set up a special hotline number.
The three assaults happened in the last two months in east Bakersfield, and experts also have safety advice for worried residents.
"The task force strongly encourages the community to report anything that may be relevant to this investigation, which may lead to the identification and arrest of this dangerous suspect," a Bakersfield police statement reads.
The task force is a partnership between the city police and Kern County Sheriff's Office. The special hotline is (661) 852-7800.
The three sexual assaults happened on July 18 in the 4300 block of Columbus Street, on Aug. 1 at 2901 Virginia Ave., and on Monday in the 200 block of Quantico Avenue.
On Wednesday, women in the area had heard about the attacks.
"It's really bad," Judy Agbayani said. "It's really serious, it's really scary."
She is already trying to be more aware of her surroundings. That's exactly what the experts advise.
"There are definitely things that we can do to stay safe," Louis Gill said. "We can't be 100 percent certain, but there are actions that we can take."
Gill is with the Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault. The group provided a list of tips and suggestions.
Some women are already doing what's on that list.
"I locked my door last night, because I was so scared, and set the alarm," Cheynne Comitz told Eyewitness News. "It's pretty scary. We were just talking about it earlier."
The Alliance officials advise locking doors, and if possible, setting a house alarm even when you're home. They also suggest motion-sensitive lights and extra lighting around the house. They advise watching out for neighbors and joining a Neighborhood Watch Program.
Esther Escalante said she agrees with that idea.
"Women that are going to be home alone, let your neighbors know," she said.
Away from home, there's more advice:
- Pay attention to your surroundings
- If you exercise early or late, let someone know where you are and when you'll return
- If possible, travel in groups
- Carry a cellphone
Kirjah Kay has some advice of her own. "Always carry your keys between your knuckles, girls," she said. That's a handy weapon for self-defense.
In the three reported incidents, the suspect broke into a home, tied up victims, and then assaulted a victim. Officers said the incidents have all been during early morning hours, and the suspect description is similar.
The suspect has been described as a black man with a dark complexion, in his late 20s to 30s. He's reported to be about 6-feet tall with a medium build. In the incidents, the man has been seen wearing a black ski mask, dark hooded sweatshirt and shorts.
In the most recent incident, officers said the suspect had a gun. In these cases, the suspect also steals items from the victims' homes.
Officers said the effort between the sheriff's office and BPD has led to more investigation into an attempted sexual assault on July 1 in the 2900 block of Virginia, as well as two previously reported burglaries at that location on March 25 and May 14. Investigators said they may all be related.
The Secret Witness Program is also offering a reward of up to $5,000 for each case, for information leading to the arrest or filing of a criminal complaint against the suspect responsible for the assaults, according to the police statement on Wednesday.
And while these incidents happened in victims' homes, experts also urge extra precautions in any location. Judy Agbayani said she agrees with that.
"Look behind your back," she said. "All around, before you go in the car."
At the Alliance, Gill said it's vital to be aware of your surroundings. "We have a tendency to walk around with our heads down, looking at our cellphones," he said, adding that has to stop.
His group has more advice. If you are attacked, report it immediately. And, if someone tells you they've been attacked, believe them and report it. Also, if anything feels wrong, call 911.
Gill also says these particular incidents are a reminder to take precautions even in your own house. "When you're at home, when you're at your most comfortable, still be aware," he said. "Because we need to be vigilant."