Sunday, December 27, 2009

BALTIMORE (AP) | In his 24 years as the police chief of tiny Kilmarnock, Va., Michael Bedell had never had to investigate a rape.

So when two were reported within a span of four days recently, it sent shock waves through the community. The town of about 1,200 raised $10,000 for a reward fund, and neighboring jurisdictions supplemented the town’s patrol force of five officers to provide around-the-clock coverage.

“When the sun went down, our town lit up, from porch lights, streetlights, everything,” said Chief Bedell.

Meanwhile, Chief Bedell consulted with a state police profiler, and they soon zeroed in on Donald Vaughan, 19, a Baltimore teen on juvenile probation for four prior offenses, including burglaries, who had recently moved there to live with his mother.

In Baltimore, Vaughan has been charged in the Saturday rape of a 26-year-old woman who had just paid him to shovel her snow. Vaughan confessed to attacking her and slashing her throat, according to Baltimore police. In a later interview with Virginia officers at Baltimore’s booking center, he also confessed to the Kilmarnock attacks and will be charged in the coming days, Chief Bedell said.

Vaughan was ordered held without bail Tuesday on charges stemming from the Baltimore attack. At a brief hearing, court officials said that although Vaughan is an adult, he remained committed to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services in connection with his juvenile crimes, which included several burglaries.

Tammy Brown, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, said the department cannot comment on individual cases, but that supervision of juvenile offenders can be transferred to other states under interstate agreements. The jurisdiction where the offender resides then assumes responsibility of monitoring the offender, she said.

The early-morning attacks stunned Kilmarnock, near the mouth of the Rappahannock River. The first was reported Nov. 28, when a woman in her late 60s was attacked by an intruder. Her husband, who has difficulty hearing, did not know the attack was occurring. On Dec. 1, a woman in her 30s was sexually assaulted in her home.

A local Crime Stoppers program offered a $1,000 reward, but residents determined that wasn’t enough. The Town Council approved $5,000 - the most allowed - and encouraged residents and businesses to do the same. The fund swelled to $10,000.

“When people need help, you get it down here,” Town Manager Tom Saunders said. “We’re all we’ve got.”

The state police profiler told Chief Bedell that the attacker was likely new in town, with a record of break-ins, and might repeat his pattern. The next morning, Chief Bedell said, officers encountered Vaughan walking around the neighborhood.

They interviewed him and took a DNA sample. They learned of his record. With the help of other police agencies, they began conducting surveillance on him while awaiting forensic results from a crime lab.

On Dec. 16, Vaughan received permission from his Virginia probation agent to visit family for Christmas, Chief Bedell said. He said that Baltimore officials were notified that Vaughan was returning.

About noon Saturday, city police said, Vaughan attacked the woman in the city’s Canton neighborhood, slicing her throat with a kitchen knife. Police tracked a stolen cell phone and picked up Vaughan, who matched the suspect’s description. In addition to his confession, police said the victim picked him out of a photo array.

Officials in Kilmarnock are hopeful that his arrest can restore a sense of calm to the community. Amid an increased police presence, attendance was down at the town’s Christmas parade, and some are rethinking how they define their sense of security.

Mayor Curtis Smith issued a news release last week, praising the work of his police officers and pledging to hold a community information session to “highlight lessons learned from three weeks of fear.”

“It will take a while for the people of Kilmarnock to get over the shock of these crimes, and I think a gathering of this kind will help,” Mr. Smith said. “But I also want them to learn from this and to not be lulled into a feeling of false security. I want them to stay safe.”

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