Loudoun women vow to fight back against potential trail attackers

LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. (WJLA) - Whether they're attacked from behind, grabbed by the ponytail or placed in a chokehold, women in a Loudoun County running group are learning how to fight back.

They have more motivation to do so, following an attack last week on the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail in Sterling.

So, they're taking to Justin Lough's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu studio in Purcellville.

"I think it's really important to learn how to protect myself," said Round Hill resident Robyn McMillen.

Police say the attack happened at 7 a.m. last Monday; the woman was attacked from behind and knocked to the ground while she was running on the trail. The suspect fled the scene toward Fairfax.

"I think before this attack I was a little bit complacent," admits Lovettsville resident Kristin Ridenour.

Now, the women are being more pro-active - they're part of Loudoun County's new "Moms Run This Town" running club, and they hit the trail together all the time.

"[News of last week's attack] definitely makes women have that in the back of their minds while they're out there [on the trail]," said member Melanie McDaniel of Purcellville.

"You definitely need to run with a buddy," agreed Vanessa Sieczowski of Purcellville.

Michelle Goodwin, leader of the Loudoun County chapter of Moms Run This Town, said she brings extra protection with her when she goes running as well.

"I always run with this," she says, holding up a tube. "It clearly says, 'I have mace.'"

But for those who want to take more control of their personal safety, chapter leader Goodwin says learning self-defense moves is certainly a good idea, too.

"I really felt like it was time to take action," Goodwin said.

Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman says his deputies are increasing bike patrols along the trail as well.

"We are doing everything we can to help out as well, but it's most important that people on the trails keep their eyes and ears open," he told ABC 7 News.

Sheriff Chapman says his officers are also working with neighboring police, since there's a chance the assault that happened in Sterling could be linked to other assaults in Fairfax County.

Police released a sketch of a potential Fairfax County suspect recently, and ask anyone who thinks they may have information about those cases to contact them immediately.

After the most recent wake-up call, the Loudoun women say they'll certainly be more vigilant as they take to the trails together.

"You hear about something like that so close to home, and realize that you're not really safe anywhere," said Ridenour. "You need to take precautions."