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Denver airport officials on defensive over rape claim

/ Source: The Associated Press

An alleged rape at the Denver International Airport has pressed officials to defend security at the Rocky Mountain hub, saying the attack was a "terrible" but rare incident of violent crime and the millions of travelers that pass through each year should not be fearful.

Two days after the report of the attack early Tuesday, the suspect, Noel Alexander Bertrand, 26, was being held in lieu of $50,000 bond. He appeared in district court Wednesday after his arrest on suspicion of sexual assault.

"This is so highly unusual," said Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson. "I mean 146,000 people go through DIA a day ... and you don't have incidences like this happen."

The family of the woman has raised questions about whether some employees witnessed the attack about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday in Concourse A without intervening after she told them three people she believed to be airport employees appeared to walk by without helping.

Family members said she was at the airport after missing a connecting flight Monday evening.

The woman, who spoke to KMGH-TV after agreeing to be interviewed by the Denver news station, said, as her voice trembled, that the attack "could have happened to anyone."

"I couldn't reach anywhere. I couldn't touch anything. I couldn't breathe," she said.

The Associated Press does not use the names of people who report being sexually assaulted unless they agree to be identified. The AP also isn't identifying the family member to protect the woman's identity.

Denver police believe employees who witnessed an alleged sexual assault at Denver International Airport responded by calling for help, countering claims by the family of a woman who said she saw people walk by without helping.

Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said Thursday people made phone calls to airport security, who then contacted police who were on the scene within three minutes. Airport spokeswoman Jenny Schiavone said all employees at the airport are trained to call an emergency number or flag down security guards or police officer and it appears those procedures were followed.

"It sounds like they helped the situation," Schiavone said. "I don't think our policy says that you can only call somebody."

Workers describe attack
Two workers who Jackson said pulled the suspect off the woman shortly before police officers and airport security personnel arrived said they were working on the tarmac early Tuesday morning when they saw something happening through the window inside concourse A and quickly realized someone was being hurt.

"I saw the hair waving and that is when I yelled at Mark and said, 'We got to go,'" said Frontier Airlines mechanic Kris Musil.

Once inside, they saw a man and a woman.

"The first thing I saw as I went through the door and was going after him was he reared back and smacked the girl pretty hard," said Mark Adams, also a Frontier Airlines mechanic who responded to the attack. "Then (he) finally stopped when I yelled at him."

While Adams approached the man, Musil said he came from behind. The workers said once he saw both men and heard Musil yelling at the police, he stepped away from the woman.

"At one time the man said, 'I am going to go now,' and I told him he wasn't going anywhere," said Musil.

"I wish we could have got there a lot sooner," Adams added.

Jackson said others saw the attack and telephoned for help but didn't intervene.

Despite the incident, the two believe the airport is safe, but they do have a warning.

"If it happened up there on a concourse, it can happen anywhere," said Adams.

Jackson said that he knows of one other alleged sexual assault there, which he said involved an airport worker attacking another employee in an area not accessible to the public.

An airport spokeswoman told The Denver Post that "something like this is terrible, but it's also very rare."

"We have many, many layers of security," spokeswoman Jenny Schiavone told the newspaper. "We believe the airport is absolutely safe."

The victim said her assailant had struck up a conversation with her in a restaurant, and then followed her out of the eatery, sat down beside her and tried to kiss her, according to a family member.

When she objected, the man threw her to the floor and assaulted her, the relative said.

The family members said the woman was flying from her home in Oregon to a convent in Peoria, Ill., to look into a yearlong service program through the Catholic Church. The woman, who comes from a military family, is on a break from studying to be a dental hygienist, according to her family.

Airport officials said they believe airport workers, including employees of outside contractors, "responded appropriately," Schiavone said.

The district attorney's office said a decision on whether to file formal charges would come later this week. Authorities said he didn't yet have an attorney.

No one returned telephone messages left at what were believed to be Bertrand's home in Portland and his family's home in Vancouver, Wash.

KMGH-TV reported that a woman who identified herself as Bertrand's grandmother said Bertrand is a former Marine. One of his previous addresses in public records was a U.S. Marine facility in Japan.


Associated Press reporter Dan Elliott contributed to this story.