A community in need of healing has readily opened its heart and its wallet to the 33-year-old woman viciously attacked in September on a Near East Side bike path — a crime that remains unsolved with no identified suspects.
In little more than a month, more than $33,000 has been raised for the Isthmus resident and UW-Madison graduate student, who is now out of the hospital but has a long, uncertain road to recovery ahead of her.
“She obviously has physical injuries that are healing, with emotional injuries that could last a lifetime,” said Joel DeSpain, Madison police spokesman. “She’s looking to move on past this, but it will be very difficult.”
One of the first things the woman did with some of the donated funds, which she started receiving Sept. 20, was replace her eyeglasses, which were broken during the assault, UW-Madison professor Julie Mitchell said.
Mitchell started a GoFundMe campaign two days after the attack that raised nearly $24,000 from 451 people who made donations ranging from $5 to $1,500.
“It’s clear that Madison took this incident as a call to action,” Mitchell said. “The ability to quickly (organize) rallies, fundraisers and discussions about bike path safety reflects the strong and caring community we have.”
“The survivor and her family seem like really nice people who were put in a horrible situation, and the donations have helped them focus on mental and physical recovery,” Mitchell added. “They would never have asked anyone to do this on their behalf, but they are extremely grateful for the emotional and financial support of the community.”
The attack took place on Sept. 12 just after midnight, when the woman was grabbed from behind while walking on the Capital City Trail near the 300 block of South Livingston Street. Beaten, choked and raped, she was left for dead in bushes alongside the trail and discovered more than an hour later after crawling back to the path, police have said. She spent her initial days in the hospital under heavy sedation.
The Marquette Neighborhood Association and the High Noon Saloon raised roughly $9,200 for the victim, from people who preferred to make donations with cash and checks. Last week the association transferred the money to her in a single cashier’s check, with the assistance of the victim services unit of the Dane County District Attorney’s Office, which is protecting her identity.
The woman’s likely long recovery — with medical expenses and the possibility of not being able to work for some time — made raising the money relatively easy, said Lynn Lee, president of the neighborhood association. But another reason for the giving was more visceral, he said: The neighborhood itself seemed under attack and needed to react.
The assault was the second of two “tragic events” in the past year, he said, the first being the March fatal police shooting of 19-year-old Tony Robinson on Williamson Street. (Madison police officer Matt Kenny was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting after an outside investigation, and the police department found he did not violate policies.)
“In both of these incidences, I saw the neighborhood step up, take it personally and want to do something,” Lee said, with marches and fundraisers held for both families.
The $9,200 in neighborhood-raised funds included $2,800 from a multi-band High Noon Saloon benefit concert on Oct. 1 that raised a matching amount for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Another nearly $1,500 was raised for the victim from residents of the Marquette and other Isthmus neighborhoods, and $5,000 was donated by the owners of Tallard Apartments, a Near West Side company offering rental homes and apartments near UW-Madison.
“We don’t even know her,” said Pete Lemberger, co-owner of Tallard Apartments. The company recently earned an unexpected financial windfall, he said, and thought donating the sum “would be a nice thing to do.”
Lemberger said the attack also resonated with him because he’s an avid runner and biker who frequently uses bike paths in the city. “Now people have to run down these paths and think about stuff like that,” he said.
DeSpain said detectives continue to follow leads in the case, including a person of interest seen by somebody using the bike path prior to the attack, but they have identified no suspects. They also continue to appeal to the community for any additional tips and information.
“Unfortunately, a stranger attack is one of the most difficult to solve,” DeSpain said. “And particularly when we have a victim who could not, because of the way the attack took place, give us a lot of information about the perpetrator.”
Police also report there have been no similar attacks anywhere in the city since the one last month, which was preceded by an attempted assault in the same area a month earlier. That suggests a possible pattern may have been broken after the high-profile attack.
“There’s always the chance we scared somebody off and they’ve left the area,” DeSpain said.