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By Andrea Peyser
Aug 12, 2016
The late-day sun shone brilliantly as giddy joggers, walkers and bicycle riders jammed their bodies into city parks. It was a Tuesday evening, and even the most cynical New York City dweller couldn’t help but be infected with a sense of springtime optimism, as urban oases transformed into veritable all-you-can-eat buffets.
And at the precise moment that New Yorkers forgot to watch their backs, evil struck.
At about 7:30 p.m. on May 17, a 42-year-old woman cutting through Gorman Park in Washington Heights in Manhattan on her way home was grabbed from behind by a man holding a knife to her neck, police say.
The assailant forced the victim off a concrete path, pushed her to the ground behind a set of stairs in a secluded area, removed her pants and raped her.
Police, who distributed a sketch of the suspect after the woman reported the brutality in June, are at a loss.
But she was lucky. She survived.
This monstrous crime failed to prompt the kind of headlines — or citywide trauma — elicited after 30-year-old Karina Vetrano was sexually assaulted, police believe, and strangled on Aug. 2 by an unknown predator as she took her evening jog, alone, in a nature preserve near her home in Howard Beach, Queens.
Her battered body, found lying face-down in the tall grass and brush by her retired firefighter father, was testament to the valiant, but unsuccessful, fight she waged for her life, cops theorize.
But the earlier sexual outrage at Gorman Park should have served as a warning: Danger lurks amid the grass.
Further advancing the emerging narrative that no one, in any green space, is safe, particularly those of the fairer sex, is the also unsolved slaying Sunday of New York CityGoogle marketing account manager Vanessa Marcotte, 27, as she took an afternoon jog on a wooded country road near her mother’s home in Princeton, Mass. Police found her body stripped naked with burns to her head, feet and hands, said a source.
Adding to the horror, authorities in New York and Massachusetts told The Post Wednesday that they haven’t ruled out a connection between the two cases of pretty brunettes who met awful ends.
“Until, like, five minutes ago, I used to go running four times a week in Prospect Park,” a 30-something woman I know from Brooklyn told me.
“Now I’d rather dodge cabs,’’ she said. “It’s safer.”
We’ve been living under the false impression that parks and woodlands, beloved by fitness buffs and folks who just want to kick back and smell the flowers, are safe havens. They’re not. In the absence of beefed-up police patrols, I’d advise parkgoers to learn self-defense, always travel with one or more buddies — or take recreation to city streets.
Officials from the administration of Mayor de Blasio are “trying to seriously downplay the numbers of [park crime] victims, which is an insult to people who were raped, murdered, robbed or assaulted’’ during a recent nine-month period, Geoffrey Croft, founder and president of NYC Park Advocates, a watchdog group, told me.
While crime around the city has plunged to near-historic lows, violent felonies — rape, murder, assault and robbery — committed in more than 1,100 parks (excluding Central Park, which has its own police precinct) have jumped by a staggering 23 percent from the beginning of July 2015 through March 2016, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to a new study called “A Walk in the Park.”
In it, NYC Park Advocates personnel analyzed data supplied by the city Police Department and determined that there were 417 major crimes — or more than one a day — in that time frame, up from 340 the previous year.
Fourteen rapes were reported, compared with 10 a year earlier. The number of murders tripled — from two to six.
It seems that those with bad intent are winning the turf war.
One afternoon this week, I saw just a scattering of female joggers, mostly in pairs, in Prospect Park — the fifth-most crime-ridden park in the city. (Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens holds the No. 1 spot.)
One woman stopped just long enough to tell me, defiantly: “I have to keep coming back. They can’t have this park!”
She’s right. Mayor de Blasio, incoming Police Commissioner James O’Neill, City Council members — make fighting this crime wave a priority. Do something!