RENO, Nev. – The hunt for a serial rapist spread fear around a college campus after police linked a 19-year-old woman's death to at least two other attacks in the area.
The woman's body was found in a field on Friday, nearly a month after she vanished from a home at the edge of the University of Nevada, Reno. Police said Brianna Denison had been abducted and strangled in what they called a sexually motivated crime.
Freshman Darryllyn Thomas, who lives in a dormitory two blocks away from the house, said the string of attacks has alarmed students.
"A lot of students think he's going to do it again," Thomas said Sunday at the student union building. "Everybody is pretty scared. Students are carrying Tasers, pepper spray and bear spray. I'm very paranoid."
University President Milton Glick issued a statement urging students to take precautions. The attacks have led to expanded campus patrols and escorts, seminars on personal safety and the distribution of whistles to female students.
"University police advise that you remain aware of your surroundings and avoid situations that put you at risk, such as walking alone at night or leaving doors and windows unlocked," Glick said.
Denison was a student at Santa Barbara City College in California. She was visiting her hometown over winter break and was last seen sleeping on a couch at a friend's rental house just off the Reno campus. Her body was found about 8 miles away.
DNA evidence links Denison's kidnapping to two other attacks on women near the university late last year, police said. An earlier campus attack also could be related. In that incident, the attacker brazenly raped a woman at gunpoint in a garage where campus police park their cruisers.
Reno Deputy Police Chief Jim Johns has described the suspect as a serial rapist and expressed fear that "he may re-offend."
Senior Alix Frank, who lives 2 1/2 blocks from the house where Denison vanished, said she's carrying pepper spray.
"I'm getting nervous because of the progression of the crimes," she said. "It hasn't destroyed my life with paranoia, but I'm definitely taking more precautions. I just hope they can make an arrest as soon as possible."
Denison family members said they would not relent until the suspect is brought to justice.
"We are not giving up," her aunt, Lauren Denison, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
"This shouldn't have happened ... I know all of us, and the community, want to get our hands on him, but that's not realistic," she said.
A memorial featuring flowers, teddy bears and a photo of Denison drew periodic visitors Sunday to the brush-covered field where her body was found on the city's south side.
Blue ribbons hung in Denison's memory around the neighborhood where she was abducted, as well as outside the governor's mansion in Carson City. Her family has urged the community to place blue ribbons — her favorite color — around their homes until her burial. Funeral arrangements were pending.
"We will be honoring that request at the mansion and encourage all Nevadans to do the same," said Gov. Jim Gibbons, whose 20-year-old son, Jimmy, was a classmate of Denison at Reno High School.