Residents of the diverse Mission Hill neighborhood were shocked to hear police reports of two violent assaults on women along the often-busy Huntington Avenue corridor early Saturday morning.
In separate but similar incidents that police said may be related, a man wielding a knife grabbed a young woman from behind and attempted to sexually assault her. Each victim managed to fight off her attacker, but not before suffering a stab wound that was not life-threatening.
The first incident occurred around 2 a.m., when a man jumped out of bushes near Vancouver Street and Huntington Avenue, grabbed a woman, and attempted to assault her, police said. The attack happened just steps from the Longwood area, a bustling concentration of museums, university dorms, and hospitals.
The man stabbed the woman in the leg with a knife before she escaped. Police described the suspect as a 6-foot-tall white male with blond or brownish hair, wearing a blue plaid shirt and khaki shorts.
Then, at 2:51 a.m., police received a 911 call reporting an attempted sexual assault at Huntington Avenue and Parker Hill Street, a mostly residential area near the Mission Park housing development, according to a Boston Police spokeswoman, Officer Neva Coakley.
The second victim was also grabbed from behind by a man with a knife; he knocked the woman to the ground and stabbed her in the hand before she, too, was able to escape. Police said the suspect in the second attack was a white male in his early 20s with brownish wavy hair, between 5-foot-7 and 6 feet tall, wearing a white or gray hoodie and blue jeans.
Late on Saturday night, police released several images on www.bpdnews.com of a man they wanted to question in connection with the assaults.
Coakley said the two attacks may be related. She also said police had no indication they are related to other sexual assaults in the city.
Jonathan Toren, who has lived in the neighborhood for four years, said he was surprised to hear of such violent crime in the neighborhood. “It’s not in keeping with what we’ve seen,” he said. “This is not a wonderful neighborhood, but it’s also not a neighborhood where there are stabbings every night.”
Lily Trams, a 22-year-old student at the nearby Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, said that her school regularly sends out e-mails warning students about crime and that she and her friends never walk on Huntington alone. She leaves school around 5 p.m. every day, she said, to ensure she never has to walk home in the dark.
“Especially as a girl, I don’t bring my laptop or wear my backpack out late at night,” Trams said. “And I always make sure to have someone walk up the hill with me.”
Some residents were not fazed by the attacks, however, and said they were unlikely to change their routines.
Callie Simpson, 21, said she rarely feels unsafe walking in the neighborhood at night.
I sometimes walk around at night and then a week later I’ll hear someone was robbed on that same street,” she said. “But I never feel unsafe in the moment.” She added, “It’s a city; things happen.”
Councilor Mike Ross, whose district includes Mission Hill, said the incidents were unusual and disturbing.
“Obviously what happened is very concerning,” he said. “But Mission Hill is a very safe community. The police are all over this. They feel like they have some good leads where they might have some success, and they have some good evidence as well . . . We’ll see how they work this case over the next day or two, and hopefully the suspect will be apprehended.”
Ross implored residents to be cautious about walking alone at night.
Ross said the neighborhood has a “strong” police presence, especially on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, when a student patrol car trawls the area for parties or other disturbances. He also said Mission Hill residents generally do not turn a blind eye to crime.
“I know for a fact there have been attempted attacks in past that were thwarted and disrupted by active neighbors,” he said.
Police are encouraging anyone with information to call District 2 detectives at 617-343-4275, the Sexual Assault Unit at 617-343-4400, or the department’s anonymous tip line at 1-800-494-TIPS.