BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer email@example.com
Sabrina Sandoval and Monica Woodward have never fired a gun. In fact, Woodward is kind of afraid of them and never wanted one in her home.
But a series of rapes in east and northeast Bakersfield over the past five weeks has changed their minds.
Here are tips to help decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim of sexual assault:
* Always pay attention to your surroundings and stay alert even in your home.
* Call 911 if you see someone or something that looks suspicious.
* Lock doors and set alarms, and install motion sensitive lights or extra lights in general to deter attackers.
* Travel in groups if possible and, if going out in the early morning or evening, tell someone where you're going, when you expect to be back and your intended route.
* Carry a cell phone, have a plan of escape in case of emergency and if attacked report it to the police immediately.
* Watch over your neighbors and join a neighborhood watch group.
* If someone you know has been attacked, help them to seek assistance and call the police.
Source: Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault
"I was telling my husband this morning that we need to buy a gun," Sandoval said Wednesday outside her residence, where she and Woodward were watching their children play together.
The attacks have struck fear into east Bakersfield residents, and police announced Wednesday the formation of a joint investigative task force with the Kern County Sheriff's Office to pool all information and resources connected to the cases.
In addition to three sexual assaults and an attempted sexual assault, the task force is also looking into two burglaries that may be related to the attacks.
The latest rape occurred early Monday in the 200 block of Quantico Avenue, north of East Brundage Lane and west of Oswell Street. The suspect, as in the previous incidents, broke into a residence and bound its occupants before sexually assaulting a victim.
The suspect is described as black, in his late 20s to 30s, 5 feet 8 inches to 6 feet tall, with a medium build. He has been seen wearing a black ski mask, dark hooded sweatshirt and shorts, and in the last incident was armed with a handgun.
The first assault happened July 18 at a residence in the 4300 block of Columbus Street in northeast Bakersfield. The second incident took place Aug. 1 in the 2900 block of Virginia Avenue, not far from Monday's attack.
Bakersfield Police Sgt. Jason Matson said Wednesday evening the burglaries occurred March 25 and May 14 in the 2900 block of Virginia Avenue, and the attempted sexual assault occurred in that same block July 1.
Matson said he could not discuss the particulars of the crimes, including how the suspect gained entrance to the homes.
Meanwhile, residents are being extra cautious.
"We're nervous," Sandoval said.
She said she and Woodward take turns walking their young children to their nearby school because they're afraid something could happen to them. They're always outside when their children are, and both women said they keep their doors and windows locked.
Sandoval said her family stays in together at night. She has a couple big dogs that she lets out into the yard when it gets dark.
Other people in the area are also staying put at night. Dena Chavez said the attacks have made it difficult for her and her children to be comfortable in their own home.
Chavez said her 7-year-old daughter heard about the attacks on the news and, while she doesn't understand everything about the assaults, she's scared.
"She thinks someone is going to hurt her," Chavez said.
The Quantico Avenue resident said she lets her dogs out more often, and never keeps her garage door open anymore. She's not experienced anything like this before.
"This neighborhood isn't the best, but this street has been pretty low key," Chavez said.
David Ramirez lives down the street. He recommends people lock up, and don't open the door unless you're prepared.
"I don't answer the door unless I have a gun in my hand," he said with a laugh.
With his mother and sister at home, local resident David Martinez said he stays in at night to make sure they're safe. He said he'd like to see more police cruisers in the area, and described the lack of an arrest as frustrating.
"We don't go out (at night) unless we need to," he said.
A hotline for calls regarding the cases has been established at 852-7800. Those with information can also call Secret Witness, which is offering a reward of up to $5,000, at 322-4040.
Both lines operate 24 hours a day.