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Violent attack in Middlesex Fells Reservation cast a pall over scenic area for some visitors

A nonprofit group that promotes the Middlesex Fells Reservation is working to help people feel safe when they visit.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

The Middlesex Fells Reservation north of Boston has a long history as a popular outdoor recreation spot where the estimated 1 million nearby residents and others run, walk, bike, hike, and walk their dogs.

But a violent sexual assault last month on a 48-year-old woman who was walking alone near the Leslie Road Trail in Medford has generated concerns about personal safety in the 2,575-acre reservation. A nonprofit organization that promotes the park said it is hoping to address those worries and help people feel safe when they visit.

“People are shaken by what happened. They said they’re angry and they are really determined to figure out ways to make the Fells a safe place for everyone,” said Chris Redfern, executive director of Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation, a nonprofit group.

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At about 8 a.m. on Nov. 26, prosecutors allege Brady McCue, 28, of Medford, singled out a woman he said was “small” and “pretty,” struck her about 14 times with a rock, repeatedly raped her, and left her for dead. A white Dunkin’ coffee cup with an order sticker on it tied McCue to the attack, prosecutors said, and police arrested him at his apartment hours later.

Seven charges were filed against him, including armed assault to murder, kidnapping, and aggravated rape. McCue pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail pending a dangerous hearing set for Monday in Somerville District Court. His father has said that McCue was a state Department of Mental Health client who was discharged from Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport four days before the attack after being treated for a chronic mental illness. McCue told investigators he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2018, prosecutors said.

The woman was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital, and is now recovering at home, according to the office of Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan.

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The Friends of Middlesex Fells Reservation wrote about the attack on its Facebook page Thursday and invited people to share their views about improving visitor safety at the park, which has grown even more in popularity since the coronavirus pandemic began. Redfern said he has worked with the organization’s women leaders on crafting a response.

One plan is to offer more free guided group walks, Redfern said. It currently hosts about 100 such walks annually, he said.

Many people have asked about the woman who survived the attack, Redfern said.

“There’s been an outpouring of concern and support for the survivor and her family,” he said.

Diana Lomakin of Arlington coordinates a weekly hike through the reservation for families called Babes in the Woods. Attendance at the group’s most recent hike on Tuesday was larger than expected, she said, and the hikers were determined to show their support for the park.

“I think mostly people are stunned, just in shock. I know it took me a few days to process everything. It’s a mix of emotions. They are sad. They are angry. Some people are scared,” Lomakin said.

The attack didn’t make her feel less safe visiting the reservation, she said, but weighed on her mind during her visit Tuesday.

“It’s a great place to recharge. Nature can be so healing. It’s really frustrating that people might be deterred from what the Fells has to offer because of this,” Lomakin said.

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The Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees the state parks system, said in a statement Saturday that public safety is the agency’s “highest priority” and that it had worked with the Massachusetts State Police to investigate the attack.

Following the assault, rangers participated in a safety session with employees and reviewed standard operating procedures and protocols, the department said. The agency recommends visitors travel with a companion or in groups and that they tell people who are not with them about their itinerary. Visitors are urged to bring a fully charged phone and a whistle, stay on marked trails, and avoid being there after dark.

Suspicious individuals or activity should reported to 911, the department said. A State Police spokesman said troopers visit the property throughout the day.

Jeff Meese of Cambridge, who hiked around South Reservoir on Saturday, said he struggles to understand such a violent attack unfolding in a scenic spot.

“That’s like a playground. That’s where I go to find beauty,” he said. “That’s where I go to put the world behind me.”

Meese said he feels secure visiting the reservation.

“That’s one of the benefits of being a guy. You just go. I never had an issue there one way or another,” he said.

Paulina and Greg Staley of Charlestown, who were also at the reservation Saturday, said they generally feel safe in the Fells, but believe it’s safer to visit with a group.

Paulina Staley, 32, said she had considered walking through the area with just her cat, but decided against it after hearing about the sexual assault.

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“It’s too dangerous,” she said. “I just imagine myself in that situation, you know, because I’m a woman, too. We’re not as strong, and even if you shout, there’s nobody around.”

Another visitor, Ashley Grevelink, 29, said Saturday that she feels secure walking there, but pays attention to her surroundings.

“I feel like I’m very tuned into the reality of power and security, so it doesn’t cause me fear, but it causes more awareness,” said Grevelink, a computer engineer who grew up in Winchester. “I can scream extremely loud and I practice martial arts and self-defense.”

Shannon Mahoney of Newburyport walked her 5-year-old Labradoodle, Moose, around Middle Reservoir Saturday with a friend and her dog.

The reservation, she said, offers much-needed escape, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, but she takes steps to stay safe. If she’s visiting with her dog, Mahoney said she sticks to the wider trails. Other times, she said she walks with a friend, her husband, or her brother.

“It’s unfortunate to have an event like this happen,” she said. “It reinforces that you have to be vigilant, which I wish wasn’t the case.”

Steven O’Brien and his wife have been visiting the Fells for decades and live near the spot where the attack occurred.

“It’s always been a real safe place to go, a safe place for women to walk and not worry,” he said. “Now that’s gone, and it’s a shame.”

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Erin Clark of the Globe staff contributed to this report.







Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.