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Tampa women express fear over series of rapes

The 28-year-old woman had one question for the Tampa police rape detective: "Can you shoot to kill if he comes in your home?"

The crowd of 150 men and women gathered at the Kate Jackson Civic Center in Hyde Park Tuesday night answered before Detective Jerry Herren had a chance.

"Yes! Yes!" some of them shouted.

The man the woman was referring to is the Hyde Park rapist. Since June 6 of last year he has attacked six women, most recently early Saturday morning when a 35-year-old woman was raped in her apartment.

The soft-spoken, muscular black man, described as being in his mid-20s to early 30s, has attacked women as old as 78 and as young as 24.

All the women have in common is their skin color (white), the fact they live alone in Hyde Park and that, in all but one of the rapes, they had left a window open that allowed the rapist to climb inside.

Many women in the crowd Tuesday night are well aware that they could be the next victim. And they are scared and


Barbara Horn, 40, who has lived in Hyde Park for about four years, said her life has changed since news of the first rape.

She has supplemented her Chihuahua, Fito, with a Doberman named Thorn. Their jobs are simple: "Hold him until I can shoot him," she said, adding that she has a double-barrel shotgun.

What Horn and the rest of the crowd heard Tuesday night was a detailed, though occasionally evasive, accounting of the crimes, what the police are doing to catch the rapist and what residents of Hyde Park can do to help with the search.

"I don't know whether we'll make you leave here with more fear or with less fear," said police Sgt. Delores Morrill. "Probably a little bit of both."

The detectives described the rapist and how he operates, but they shied away from revealing specific details about the attacks. Morrill said publicizing the information could compromise the case.

This angered one woman who refused to give her name for fear she would be attacked. "I want to know how these women avoided getting hurt, so that I can protect myself," she said outside the hall.

Residents who have information about the rapes, even something they consider to be inconsequential, are urged to call 225-5798, Morrill said.

The most current lead is a red, single-speed bicycle left at the scene of the rape Saturday. Detectives are hoping someone knows whom the bike belongs to.

The rapist is described as 5-7 to 5-10, 150 to 170 pounds, with short hair. He is clean-shaven but has been known to grow a moustache, and early on he had loose curly hair.

Police Cpl. Howard Northrop, who works with Neighborhood Watch groups around the city, gave the crowd harrowing background information about rape and how to prevent it.

Anyone, regardless of age or looks, can be a potential victim, he said.

"He doesn't care what you look like," Northrop said. "He's trying to degrade you."

Some of the best preventive techniques during an attack are faking seizures, forcing yourself to vomit or claiming you have AIDS, he said.

As for shooting an intruder, police said, a person must be being attacked or threatened with attack to justify such a response.