By Clint Van Zandt
msnbc.com
updated 1/28/2008 7:08:21 PM ET 2008-01-29T00:08:21
COMMENTARY

DNA has now positively linked the Jan. 20 suspected kidnapping of 19-year-old Santa Barbara City College student Brianna Denison to the kidnapping and sexual assault of a University of Nevada, Reno, student on Dec. 16, 2007. In the December assault, the victim was taken from outside of her residence, just blocks from where Denison was last seen, assaulted and returned by her abductor to the vicinity of her residence.

Denison disappeared from a friend’s Reno home around 4 a.m. on the morning she was believed to have been kidnapped. Two other women slept undisturbed in the residence, one in a locked bedroom with her dog. Although authorities initially dismissed any relationship between the December kidnapping and Denison’s disappearance, DNA has now confirmed that the same white male was the attacker in both situations, and that the blood found on the pillow on the couch were Denison slept was her blood. This may indicate she had been assaulted while she slept and then silently carried away by her assailant. Attempts to match the offender’s DNA to that in a national DNA data base were unproductive, although most states are behind in the gathering, classifying, and submission of DNA to the national database.

This case is but one more terrible example of the need for an enlarged DNA database in America, one similar to the FBI’s national fingerprint database.

Other local incidents may also be the work of the same believed kidnapper, including the Nov. 30, 2007 fondling of a female student in the same neighborhood, and the Jan. 19 attempted burglary of the earlier Dec. 16 kidnap/assault victim’s residence. That burglary may have been the assailant’s attempt to find and re-victimize his victim from the month before, but when he could not locate her he sought another victim, finding Denison the following morning. Denison has been described as an intelligent, attractive and responsible young woman, whose purse, shoes, cell phone and other personal items were found near the couch on which she slept after a night of partying with friends, suggesting she left wearing only the tank top and sweat pants she wore to bed.

Sex offenders interviewed
Police have interviewed so-called persons of interest, including over 100 local known registered sex offenders. There are, unfortunately, over 1,700 in the area. In their desperation, Denison’s family has hired their own private detectives to hunt for the missing woman and, unfortunately, have also contacted local “psychics” to aid in the search for the young student. Although those closest to a missing person are always suspects in the initial investigation, Denison’s boyfriend, with whom she had exchanged text messages, was out of state at the time of her disappearance.  He and the man who gave her a ride to her friend’s residence have, therefore, been ruled out by police as having anything to do with Brianna’s disappearance.  Now police have their suspect’s description and his DNA, but they need someone to match them to.

Investigators have interviewed the Nov. 30 fondling victim and the Dec. 16 kidnap assault victim again to obtain a better physical description of the now believed serial offender. He is described as a 28-40 year old white male, 5’6” tall, brown hair, no noticeable accent, who drove a extended cab pickup truck or SUV type vehicle that had a baby shoe inside of the cab.  After rendering his Dec. 16 victim unconscious, he took her to another location in his vehicle, sexually assaulted her, and returned her to her residence. In the case of a serial sexual offender, many start out doing lesser crimes, such as burglaries, but in the presence of a potential victim may take advantage of the victim and commit a sexual assault. This offender is committing his crimes in a localized area between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. He likely lives, works, or has a reason to travel through the local area and he probably knows the area very well. As an area with many college students, he could consider such to be a “target rich” area, with many potential victims at his disposal.

Whether he has previously identified his victims on campus, around town, or had just stalked the neighborhood looking for suitable victims, noting Denison slept in a room that could be seen through unlocked glass doors that could be viewed from outside the residence. The suspected assailant has apparently escalated his actions to the point where he has either held his current believed victim, Denison, to have continuous contact with her, or, in a worse case scenario, he has progressed from stalking to fondling, to kidnap, assault and murder, and the police need be looking for a body, which is exactly what they are doing in nearby mountains and local rivers.

While police and other investigators search for the missing woman, the person who took her should this be the case, will be following the investigation closely via the media, but so will most of her fellow college students. Sex offenses against women are unfortunately not rare, and crimes against young college-age women are a price paid by far too many women in our country today. Many serial sex offenders continue to offend until they are finally caught, leaving a trail of victims behind them. The race is now on between police and the believed offender. If Denison was kidnapped, her family and friends can only hope for another “Elizabeth Smart” miracle, while investigators know the cold, hard statistical fact that few such case s have happy endings. Meanwhile, the University of Nevada, Reno, community must deal with the reality of a serial offender walking among their fellow citizens.

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC analyst. His Web site, www.LiveSecure.org, provides readers with security-related information.

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