Belleville Det. Sgt. Mark Heffernan said the victim of Thursday night’s sexual assault “is doing remarkably well for what happened to her.”
He described her as a “remarkably strong woman.”
The woman was ambushed in her garage late Thursday by a trio of men, one of them armed with a handgun.
The attack happened at about 9:50 p.m. as the woman arrived at her home in the first block of Parkridge Drive.
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Two of the suspects stole the woman’s 2015 Mini Cooper while the third remained behind and sexually assaulted her, according to police reports.
Heffernan acknowledged Friday that the woman had recently filed for a restraining order against a man. But police now don’t believe the case is related to that ongoing issue. He called the case one of only three cases of random sexual attacks he could recall happening in the city during his 12 years with the department.
“That’s an avenue we’re looking at,” Heffernan said when asked about the restraining order link. “But we don’t believe that has any involvement at this time.”
Heffenan said police are particularly motivated to solve this case.
‘This is not normal,” Heffernan said. “These are not things that should happen in a civilized society.”
At just before 1 a.m. Friday, police spotted the stolen car on 80th Street in East St. Louis and pursued the vehicle on State Street back into Belleville along West Main Street. The suspects jumped from the car at the dead end of Ben Louis Drive. Police captured one of the suspects, a juvenile, while the other escaped on foot despite a massive search of the area that included the use of a tracking dog and a helicopter from the St. Louis County Police Department.
Heffernan said Belleville officers went into East St. Louis to look for the car when one officer spotted the car near the city’s western border. He said when officers farther to the east didn’t see the car continuing to the east, they realized the suspects must have doubled back into the neighboring city.
The third suspect, who fled the victim’s residence on foot after the sexual assault, has not been located.
Neighbors said they were stunned to hear about the attack. Some were unaware anything had happened until Friday morning.
Gerald Hough, who lives across the street from the townhouse where the attack took place, said the crime sent ripples through an otherwise peaceful neighborhood.
“This (subdivision) was one of the best kept secrets in Belleville,” Hough said. “Until now.”
Hough said he’s lived in his home for 12 years and there have been very few problems in that time. A few years ago there was a resident who held loud parties at the private neighborhood’s swimming pool. He’s been gone for a long time, and there hasn’t been much trouble since.
Marita Bolden, who lives just outside the entrance to the subdivision at the end of North 50th Street, said she saw two police cars come through at about 10 p.m. and didn’t think anything of it.
“I thought they were just patrolling the area,” Bolden said. “It’s a quiet neighborhood and everybody knows everybody. So you don’t expect this sort of thing to happen.”
JoAnn Fahey also lives near the entrance of the Parkridge subdivision. She said she’s never been concerned with crime in the area.
“I’m 80 years old and I feel safe,” Fahey said.
There used to be neighborhood watch meetings in the area, but complacency caused them to end.
“I guess maybe we better think about getting together again,” Fahey said.
Police said the victim was able to run to a neighbor’s house to call police after she was assaulted.