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Police patrols beef up after attack on greenway near Freedom Park

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Steve Lyttle
slyttle@charlotteobserver.com cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

Walkers, joggers and those using public parks and other recreational facilities in Mecklenburg County will see a heavy police presence in coming days after a woman was attacked on Tuesday during a morning walk on a greenway near Freedom Park.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say the 52-year-old woman was walking along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway near the entrance to Freedom Park when she was assaulted by a man who came up from behind. The woman managed to get away from the attacker and called 911, police say. She received “severe lacerations,” according to a police report, but she was treated and released from nearby Carolinas Medical Center.

Police conducted a manhunt for the attacker, calling in their helicopter as they scoured the area. But they were not able to find the suspect, who was still on the loose Wednesday.

In a statement, police said they’ve increased their patrols at all public parks in the county. They’ve also re-canvassed Freedom Park and surrounding areas, interviewed a “multitude of individuals” and are trying to review any video footage that could provide some clue about the attacker. Police ask that anyone who sees anything unusual to call 911 immediately.

Twenty-four hours after the attack, it was impossible to miss the beefed-up patrols at Freedom Park. A police tower hovered 30 feet over the soccer fields. Two patrol cars could be seen at nearby tennis courts. At least three officers on dual-sport motorcycles rode through the park. Another officer checked his phone near the giant steam locomotive next to the playground; his car was parked nearby, at the entrance to the running trails.

Still, by late Wednesday, police said they hadn’t made an arrest in the assault. The suspect in the attack was described as a black male, about 6 feet tall with a muscular build and about 30 to 40 years old. The man had a medium skin tone and was wearing a gold tank top, dark shorts and sneakers.

It was unclear if news of the attack deterred people from coming to the park or greenway. Several could be seen walking or running, lured by morning temperatures in the low-70s.

Kevin Mann, 46, and Sonja Elliott, 67, were talking about the attacks as they walked near the entrance to the park Wednesday morning. They’re both interior designers – he lives in SouthPark and she lives uptown – and they frequently meet at Freedom Park during the day to walk and talk.

“We’re not worried,” Mann said. “We love this park so much, and there are so many people here that you’re never really alone.”

Still, the attack set neighborhood residents on edge.

“It’s scary,” said Ann Marie Burke, a member of the Freedom Park Neighborhood Association’s board.

But Burke said she generally has considered the park a safe place. “We have a different perspective, because it’s not just a public park to us, it’s our neighborhood.”

Burke said community members have volunteered at the park when county funding has waned by cleaning up creeks and picking up trash. But the neighborhood watch has never extended to the park or the greenway, which is patrolled by park rangers and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.

People with information about Tuesday’s assault can call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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