West Hyattsville trail assaults cause increase in patrols

A message board near the trail warns people to be aware of their surroundings.

Maryland-National Capital Park Police officers are stepping up their patrols along a trail near the West Hyattsville Metro station after a series of sexual assaults and rapes in the neighborhood.

In the most recent incident, which occurred last Friday, police say a gunman dragged a woman into the woods near the station and raped her. It was just the latest in a series of five attacks in the neighborhood since January, three of which happened along the Northwest Branch Trail since March.

Steps the department is taking to both find the suspect and keep the public safe include posting fliers, beefing up patrols on the trail, temporary lighting and a large message board cautioning trail users to be aware of their surroundings.

"It's a tragic state of affairs when you have young ladies being assaulted," Park Police Capt. Stan Johnson said. "That's what we have here - someone taking advantage of opportunities...young ladies walking the trail by themselves."

Police have released three different sketches based on the descriptions of attackers given by victims. Each of them portray a Hispanic man, standing 5-foot-5 to 5-foot-7. Authorities are unsure of whether or not each attack was made by one person or if there are a series of suspects.

It's something that has caused local resident Maira Sorto to avoid the trail.

"You don't want to put yourself in jeopardy," Sorto said. "That's what you do when you walk over here in the dark area."