NEWS- Rapid response: Grady victim praises dramatic rescue
"Grateful." That's how the victim of last Thursday's brutal sexual assault characterizes her feelings about the swift police response that saved her.
It started the way many such crimes do– an assailant grabbed a young woman walking home alone late at night and dragged her into nearby bushes. But the attack in the early hours of February 21 in the 1600 block of Grady Avenue ended very differently than most do: with a rapid arrest and a thankful victim rescued from what would have been a longer and possibly life-threatening ordeal.
"I am so grateful," says the victim, a 20-year-old UVA second-year speaking publicly for the first time about the brutal attack and her quick-thinking friends who helped police find her. (The Hook is withholding her name in keeping with its policy regarding victims of sexual assault.)
At just after 1am, Kate (a pseudonym) left a friend's house on 14th Street and headed on foot toward her Rugby Road home. Although she was walking alone, the streets are well-lighted in that area, she says, and the dense student population means the streets are often not entirely deserted, even well after midnight. As she walked along, she talked to a friend on her cellphone– a call that proved critical in the minutes that followed.
As she headed up Grady Avenue, she heard footsteps behind her. Initially, she assumed it was just another student heading home, she says. Still, her nerves were on edge: "I noticed the footsteps were not casual. He was walking with a purpose."
Still holding the phone to her ear, she "casually" turned to see who was behind her. She found her attacker.
"As soon as I turned around, he came toward me with a knife," she recalls. "I screamed as loudly as I could, so the person I was on the phone with would know something bad was happening."
"He said, 'Give me your money,' then I was screaming," she says. "He was like, 'Shut up, shut up!'"
The assailant, alleged to be 39-year-old Christopher Allen Noakes, grabbed the phone and threw it into a nearby bush. He took her purse, and, she says, "punched me a couple of times" as she curled into a fetal position on the ground. The cellphone line, however, stayed open, allowing Kate's friend to hear the attack in progress. He used another phone to call 911, but he was unable to pinpoint her location for dispatchers. Police responded to the Rugby Road area and began a desperate search.
Kate's scream didn't deter the attacker, who dragged her from the sidewalk behind a hedge and began the assault, his knife held to her throat. But others heard her cry.
In a nearby house, a fourth-year UVA student (who also agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity) says she was asleep in her second-story bedroom when the first scream awakened her. She didn't realize its source at first, but the noise continued– and it sounded like it was right outside the building.
"I heard a girl crying, screaming," the student recalls. When she peered through the blinds to the yard below, she could see two people in the shadows of the large hedge. At first she thought it was an argument between a couple. Not realizing there was a knife-wielding man there, she put on her robe and went outside.
"I was going to tell him to leave her alone," she says. But when she came around the corner of the building and saw the assailant– alleged to be Noakes– on top of the struggling victim, she raced inside, terrified, and called 911. (The tapes of those calls have not been released because the investigation is ongoing.)
The assailant didn't notice her, but Kate says she did. Neither Kate nor the witness immediately recognized each other, though they later realized they know each other well.
Kate's friend was still listening on the cellphone that was lodged in the hedge and telling dispatchers when he could hear police cars passing by. Then the second 911 call from the witness, who watched the attack through the window in her darkened bedroom, allowed police to zero in.
As the first two officers arrived on Grady, the assailant fled on foot. The witness pointed police in the direction he'd run. Kate says she stood up and ran into the street, still screaming. She wasn't alone for long, however.
"Some guy, I have no idea who he was, came out of nowhere, put his jacket around me and let me use his phone," she says. "I think he might have been an angel, honestly."
At the building next door, UVA third year Amanda Sims arrived home from her restaurant job around 1:30am and pulled into the lighted parking area. But she didn't get out of her car.
"I knew it wasn't good," says Sims, who watched as a group of officers sprinted past her. She says that she and her roommates later counted 11 police cruisers on the block. Several blocks away on 14th Street, officers made the arrest. Both Kate and the witness say they identified Noakes– who was wearing a white "do-rag" head covering– as her assailant.
Kate says the traumatizing assault "seemed like 20 or 30 minutes," even though it lasted only about five. The witness says her cellphone record shows she called 911 at 1:27 (about two minutes after the first 911 call.) By 1:34am, according to her phone records, the arrest had already been made and she had called her boyfriend.
Stopping a sexual assault in progress "doesn't happen very often," says Charlottesville Police Sergeant C.R. Smith. Although Charlottesville police don't keep data on details of arrests, Smith says she knows of only one other local case in which police stopped a sexual assault mid-attack. But that one, she says, happened more than 10 years ago.
Kate, the witness, and Sims agree the police response was impressive.
"They were unbelievable," says the witness.
Sims and her roommate say police searched the area that night and came back the following morning looking for anything the assailant might have left behind. Having an assault happen so close to home is frightening, says Sims, who expresses relief at the rapid arrest.
"I always considered Grady a safe place," she explains, recalling late nights in which she, like the victim, walked that block alone. She says she's more aware of safety now, but is comforted that a suspect is behind bars.
Kate, who was treated for non-life-threatening injuries at UVA hospital, says strong support from her family, friends, and the university is helping her through. She says she went into survival mode during the attack, at one point telling the attacker to take the knife away from her throat.
"I don't know that I would have imagined myself acting the away I did," she says. "People say they would have freaked out, but it's amazing what your mind and body do in a situation like that."
Kate just finds herself grateful for the police, her friend on the phone, but particularly for her friend upstairs asleep.
"I'm glad she got out of bed and came down to see what was going on instead of just brushing it off," she says. "She saved my life."
Noakes, who has been charged with attempted rape, forcible sodomy, robbery, and abduction, was denied bond at his Friday, February 22 hearing in Charlottesville District Court, after Judge Robert Downer learned he has a history of mental illness and two prior attempted sexual assaults. He faces a preliminary hearing in Charlottesville District Court on April 17.