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Series of sexual assaults hit UW campus

A 25-year-old woman was attacked in the Health Sciences Building at the University of Washington campus. A man who had wandered off the street found her in J-wing, a part of the Health Sciences Building.
UW Medicine
A 25-year-old woman was attacked in the Health Sciences Building at the University of Washington campus. A man who had wandered off the street found her in J-wing (highlighted), a part of the Health Sciences Building.

There's been a spate of rapes and sexual assaults on the University of Washington campus, although police do not believe these incidents are related.

Since May 1, there have been three separate events, including one that resulted in six women being assaulted at the Health Sciences Building.

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That event took place on the afternoon of May 4. Ernest Terrill Parnell, 41, had been released from jail five days earlier. Parnell walked into the Health Sciences Building with his penis hanging out of his pants.

He approached and groped five women who got away. A witness called police and followed him into a stairwell. There, Parnell said, “Man, leave me alone. I’m trying to get a nut.”

Parnell then came upon a 25-year-old woman, lifted her up in the air and threw her into a nearby lab, according to the police report.

He climbed on the woman and tore at her pants as she screamed for help.

He “punched (the woman) in the face, causing a bloody nose and bruising,” court records say.

Witnesses watched the scene unfold through a glass window. A professor got a key to the door and was able to get Parnell off the young woman.

It took police roughly 15 minutes to arrive at the scene after the first 911 call.

“People saw bits and pieces of it," said Major Steve Rittereiser of UW Police. "They didn’t realize that he was trying to sexually attack people. Part of it, he exposed himself to people. Some people reported that. Some reported disturbances at a bus stop.

"We get a lot of those individual things daily.”

The university did not send out an alert. 

“Why put out a notice of a criminal when the person is no longer a threat to the campus community – because we arrested him?” Rittereiser said.

Regarding the sexual assaults in May, Rittereiser said he believes the numbers will flatten out at the end of the year.

“We’ve had a couple of things that have happened in a row,” he said.

Still, he said that campus police are increasing visibility through patrols. They are also working to get the word out about the night ride and night walk programs.

Rittereiser also warned that what is reported does not reflect reality.

“I’m not going to say we had two rapes in the University District last year,” Rittereiser said. “That’s not true. The numbers are much higher than that.

“Rape is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States.”

The university’s crime stats for 2014 – the most recent numbers available – show that crimes typically perpetuated against women were among the most reported on campus.

In 2014, there were 28 rapes and “forcible fondling” cases reported on campus and in residence halls.

There were 24 cases of stalking reported.

And 22 cases of domestic violence were reported.

Reports of sexual violence against women since February 2016:

Feb. 5

Male suspect fondles four women at the gym on campus. The man was described as white, 18-22, 5’9 to 5’11 with light blond hair.

March 1

A woman living in a resident hall is raped by a man from an online dating service. The man is described as white, 24, 6-feet-tall, thin with short brown hair.

April 16

A woman walking on Roosevelt Way at 1 a.m. is grabbed by a man, forced into an alley and sexually assaulted.

May 1

A man approaches a 21-year-old woman from behind on the Burke-Gilman Trail, west of Mercer Court. He grabs her bottom and refuses to leave. She is able to get away and describes him as 30-40 years, 5’10 and dark-complexioned. He has a dark beard and curly, shoulder-length hair.

May 4

Ernest Terrill Parnell, 41, attacks six women at the Health Sciences Building. 

May 6

A man approaches a woman he does not know on 15th Avenue Northeast. They walk together for a few blocks. Near the 5600 block, he pulls her into an alley and sexually assaults her. The man is described as white, in his 20s, about 5’8 with blond hair and wearing glasses. He was walking a dog at the time of the incident.