Manhunt underway for Reno woman’s killer
RENO ” The search for a missing 19-year-old college student in Reno has suddenly turned into a manhunt for a serial rapist who’s on the loose and could attack again.
Abducted nearly a month ago, Brianna Denison was strangled to death by the same man who earlier attacked at least two other women in Reno, police said Saturday in announcing the results of an autopsy.
“No doubt we are on a hunt now,” Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick said.
Denison’s body was found Friday in a brush-covered field by a business park about 8 miles from the house where she last was seen early Jan. 20 at the edge of the University of Nevada, Reno.
Her body had been in the field for more than a week, and heavy snowfall over the past few weeks may have delayed its discovery, police said.
“I would say this is a serial rapist,” Deputy Police Chief Jim Johns said. “I’m worried this guy is still out there, and I’m worried somebody else is going to get hurt.”
Campus officers will do all they can to support investigators “in hunting this animal down and bringing him to justice,” added university Police Chief Adam Garcia.
Bridgette Denison, Brianna’s mother, issued a statement on behalf of the family Saturday thanking police and urging “every woman to be diligent about their own safety.”
“We ask once again that if there is anyone out there with information (on the suspect), we beg you to come forward. Now is the time,” she added.
Gov. Jim Gibbons also issued a statement urging the support of all Nevadans.
“Brianna’s story has clearly captured the hearts of our entire community and state,” Gibbons said. “We ask the community to continue helping law enforcement in efforts to find Brianna’s killer.”
Denison was abducted by a suspected rapist that police have linked by DNA to a string of attacks near the Reno campus. A student at Santa Barbara City College in California, she was visiting her hometown over winter break and was last seen sleeping on a couch at a friend’s rental house just off campus.
DNA evidence links Denison’s kidnapping to two other attacks on women near the university late last year, police said, and an earlier campus attack also could be related.
In that earlier incident, the attacker brazenly raped a woman at gunpoint in a garage where campus police park their cruisers.
Based on partial descriptions from previous victims, police have described the suspect as a white male between ages 28 and 40 and at least 5 feet 6 inches, with a long face and brown hair. He was believed to have no accent or regional dialect.
The killer’s familiarity with the city suggests he likely lives in Reno, Johns said, adding that he believes the “chances are very good” they will catch him.
“It could be tomorrow, next month, next year. We are going to find this suspect,” he told reporters.
The killer probably lives around the campus just north of the downtown casino district, Johns said, and he may work closer to the city’s southeast side, where the body was found.
“Somewhere in our community there is a wife, a mom, a girlfriend, a sister who recognizes this suspect. Likely he looks like somebody you would least suspect, but that is the person who is responsible for this crime,” he said.
Johns urged the public to be aware of any sudden behavior changes, including someone who unexpectedly quit a job or moved away or who sold a vehicle matching the suspect’s vehicle.
The vehicle was described as an “extended cab” pickup truck or sport utility vehicle with an interior dome light above the windshield.
Publicity of the manhunt may cause the rapist to stop attacking, but “our absolute fear is he may re-offend,” Johns said.
University President Milton Glick issued a statement urging support for Denison’s family and friends.
“We are filled with sympathy for the Denison family and Brianna’s friends, many of whom are UNR students,” Glick said. “Today is a time when I ask that everyone at our university direct their thoughts and prayers to those affected by this loss.”
Investigators will check with businesses near where the body was found to determine whether any surveillance cameras captured the suspect.
Johns said evidence was found in the field, but he declined to elaborate. Authorities and a search dog combed the field and nearby open land for any clues.
After raising more than $150,000 from the public earlier this month, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office is taking steps to process a backlog of DNA samples in an effort to help solve the kidnapping of Denison, authorities said.
Nearly 2,000 DNA samples already have been sent to outside crime labs for processing, they said.