Rash of violence, missing woman have Cal State San Bernardino students on edge

Pepper spray, other self-defense devices are filling pockets at Cal State San Bernardino after recent attacks

After a string of violent attacks at Cal State San Bernardino and the mysterious disappearance of a woman just off campus, freshman Stephanie Garibo decided pepper spray just wasn't enough.

Standing with a group of female students outside the student union Wednesday, Garibo displayed the new combination flashlight-Taser she starting carrying the day after 22-year-old Sahray Astina Barber went missing.

Police said they haven't found any links so far between Barber's disappearance Monday and two brazen attacks on women this month, but many female students at the university said they are now on guard.

"I've never seen anything like this," said senior Jennifer Lopez, after showing the other students how to wrap a fist around a pair of keys to stab an assailant who might approach them from behind.

"So many incidents, one after another," Lopez said. "It is beyond shocking."

University police released a sketch Wednesday of the man they believe attacked a woman from behind in a stairwell at John M. Pfau Library on March 4. The assailant grabbed and kissed the woman on the face several times and attempted to pull down her pants, authorities said. She responded by kicking him in the groin and running away.

The second attack came four days later when a man sneaked up behind a woman outside the library, placed his hand over her mouth and said, "Come on, let's go for a ride in my car." She was able to fight him off.

Police believe it was the same man in each incident, a person they described as being Latino, 19 to 21 years old, between 5 feet 7 and 5 feet 8, and weighing 135 to 145 pounds. The man has black hair with large curls and is clean shaven. A sketch of the man is now plastered on the doors to the student union.

The attacks and Barber's disappearance are only the latest incidents that have students on edge.

Last Thursday, a man took a student's iPhone during a robbery in a school parking lot and another student was kidnapped and robbed the week before by a gunman who police said was later arrested.

The run of violence has had a chilling effect. Some students are huddling in groups as they walk around campus and some are simply staying home to study, students said.

Sitting with a group of female students outside the student union, freshman Teresa De La Fuente stopped strumming on a guitar to show classmate Charlene Reliford the container of pepper spray she carries.

"A lot of people are terrified to even step inside the library now," Reliford said.

Freshman Jennifer Serrato and her boyfriend, senior Russell Flores, went to an Auto Zone on Tuesday and bought a hot-pink container of Mace.

"You sort of need it now," she said, standing outside the library Wednesday. "I'm ready to use it."

Barber's disappearance amplified the fear. San Bernardino police said she has not been seen since 6 a.m. Monday when she left her apartment across the street from campus, heading to work at a local art institute.

Police said her laptop and phone were found in some bushes not far from a parking lot near her home. A bloodhound brought in to track her scent followed it from the bushes back to the parking lot, where the trail went cold, police Lt. Rich Lawhead said.

There were no signs of a struggle, and the phone and laptop were intact — as if they'd been set down, Lawhead said.

Barber's family told police the disappearance was "very uncharacteristic" but that they believed she was capable of taking care of herself and that she had taken martial arts classes.

San Bernardino police Chief Jarrod Burguan said in a video posted online Tuesday night that detectives had found no connection between her disappearance and the attacks on campus.

"We have not ruled out the possibility the cases could be connected, but as is the case in law enforcement, you go where the evidence takes you," he said. "And thus far, the information available for our detectives … doesn't have any known connection to the university or the reported assaults."

Eddie and Delores Branham drove from Palm Desert to check in on their three daughters who live at the same apartment complex as Barber. Eddie Branham said he had already been concerned about security at the complex, noting the front gate of the parking lot was sometimes left open.

"I offered to spend the night just to be safe," he said.

Sophomore Erica Medina lives next door and makes the short walk from the campus library every day.

Sitting at a library table Wednesday with her biology textbooks, laptop and a pink pepper-spray container laid out in front of her, she said she was going to ask friends to escort her home from now on.

"I don't want to blow this out of proportion," she said. "But I live right there, I walked by there the night before it happened."


Times staff writer Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.

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