Crime & Courts

Police meet with neighbors at Fairmount Park after attack of woman

Officers and residents listen Wednesday during a neighborhood meeting to a police briefing about the woman who was sexually assaulted and set on fire Friday in Fairmount Park. (Nov. 19, 2014)
Officers and residents listen Wednesday during a neighborhood meeting to a police briefing about the woman who was sexually assaulted and set on fire Friday in Fairmount Park. (Nov. 19, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Within view of where someone set a woman on fire in Fairmount Park, the wide area of scorched grass visible again after the snow melted, Wichita police on Wednesday night held a neighborhood meeting to discuss the crime.

The 36-year-old woman was walking through the park at around 11 p.m. Friday, and someone beat her, sexually assaulted her and set her on fire, community policing Officer Chad Burnett said.

About three dozen people, mostly police officers, attended the brief meeting on the north side of the park, just south of the Wichita State University campus that lines 17th Street east of Hillside.

A man asked whether police had “any leads at all,” and police Capt. Brian White answered: “This investigation is open, and we need help.”

He said anyone with tips can call 911, Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111 or detectives at 316-268-4181. White noted that rewards for information leading to an arrest now total $5,000.

Two Wichita tow-service businesses have joined to increase the reward, police Deputy Chief John Speer said late Wednesday afternoon. It shows the high level of public concern about the case, he said.

Bud Roat Towing and Tow Service have offered to raise the reward by an additional $2,500, Speer said.

Mark Ysidro, owner of Tow Service, said it was Bud Roat’s idea to boost the reward amount offered already.

“My point is hopefully it would spur other businesses to get that reward way up there,” Ysidro said.

Roat said their motivation is simple: “That was just a horrendous crime. You got to feel for the woman, and you want whoever done it to get caught.

“I just feel like somebody knows, and (we) want to reward them for them telling. We need to help our police department.”

He added: “We don’t want that to happen to another woman.”

The woman remained in critical condition at a local hospital with burns over 55 percent of her body. Investigators have not been able to talk to her other than “a very brief statement” the night of the attack, Lt. Randy Reynolds said earlier Wednesday.

A $2,500 reward offered by Crime Stoppers has triggered calls, Reynolds said.

“I know they have been getting some tips,” he said. “As far as how credible those are, I don’t know.”

Officers have spent “a substantial amount of time talking to people in the neighborhood” trying to find clues and identify a suspect, Reynolds said. Investigators remain “very hopeful” of getting a breakthrough tip, he said.

“Most often, somebody knows something,” Reynolds said. “That’s why we encourage them to come forward.”

At the Wednesday night meeting at the park, Burnett – the community policing officer whose beat includes the park – said police have received a number of messages from people wanting to help the woman. Burnett said Credit Union of America has an account to accept donations for the woman in the name of “Loving Mother.”

Larry Young, one of those attending the meeting, said the crime, although very disturbing, is not representative of the neighborhood and doesn’t mean it is unsafe. Young is minister of Fairmount United Church of Christ at 16th and Fairmount.

Darryl Carrington, chairman of the Fairmount Neighborhood Association, said he agreed that the neighborhood is still safe. Carrington said the sprawling park is part of Wichita’s history, that it became a park in 1925 and before that was part of a dairy farm and golf course.

Carrington said he would keep using the park and would be walking through it later Wednesday night, probably singing, on his way back from rehearsing in the church choir at Fairmount United.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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