FORT APACHE INDIAN RESERVATION, Ariz. – A man in a dark shirt and hat emblazoned POLICE has raped 10 girls and a young woman after "arresting" them — a string of attacks that has made people on the reservation suspicious of even the real officers investigating the case.
Residents of the tribal capital of Whiteriver are bolting their doors, walking in pairs and demanding their children are inside by sundown.
"It's unsettling," said Gwendena Real Bird, who has a 5-year-old daughter. "It makes you very uneasy. I just can't fathom the trauma those girls experienced."
The phony police officer has been attacking victims since March on a dusty trail that winds behind more than 100 homes in Whiteriver. He tells his victims they are under arrest, then handcuffs and rapes them.
At first, nine of the 11 victims did not report that they had been attacked because they thought a police officer raped them. Eight came forward only when investigators canvassed the neighborhood recently to tell residents what was happening. Police found another victim after receiving an anonymous call.
"It has created an atmosphere of fear," said Warren Youngman, assistant agent in charge at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. "When we did our neighborhood canvassing, we had people afraid of our officers."
The rapes have occurred between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. on or near a two-mile trail that Whiteriver residents use as a shortcut to travel among six subdivisions — One Step Over, Dark Shadows, Lifesavers, Bengay, Another World and Chinatown. (As for how some of the communities got their names, One Step Over and Dark Shadows are near a cemetery; Lifesavers has brightly colored houses; and Bengay has a large number of senior citizens.)
Many of the homes are dilapidated, with sheets substituting for windows and walls cracked with age. Dogs roam the streets.
The trail and the thick vegetation serve as a hiding place for teenagers who ditch school, drink and do drugs. Teens commonly walk the trail by themselves at night, either on their way home from hanging out with friends or while visiting family members.
Kenny Burnette said that when he was younger, he and his friends used to drink along the trail, because "that was the cool thing to do in high school." Now Burnette said he worries about his nieces, who walk to school alone.
"It scares me, it scares my family, and it scares the whole community," Burnette said. "This is the first time this has happened here."
Investigators have described the rapist only as an American Indian of medium build, 20 to 40 years old. As far as investigators know, he last struck on Sept. 6.
The BIA, which is leading the investigation, has put together a 10-agent task force to investigate the crimes, drawing officers come from Arizona, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Nevada and New Mexico. A $10,000 reward has been posted.
"I used to walk on the trail by myself. Now I'm scared," said Raychelle Thompson, a 15-year-old waiting with two girlfriends at a Whiteriver bus stop.
Her grandmother, Susie Dunlap, said she no longer allows Raychelle or her other grandchildren to walk alone at night.
"I even walk them to school," she said. "I make sure they're in the house at a certain hour, and when they're outside, I check on them all the time. There's no telling when he's going to hit again."