It took five days for the U.S. Forest Service to alert the public about a roadside rape in the Wayah Bald area of the Nantahala National Forest late last month.
The rape happened on Sunday Sept. 25. The forest service issued an advisory Friday, Sept. 30.
And it might not have happened even then, except that a local newspaper, The Franklin Press, obtained a transcript of the actual 911 call made by the victim. The newspaper published a story recounting the roadside attack based on the 911 call. After it came out, the federal agency confirmed that yes, a rape had taken place.
The day before, the forest service had sent out a generic press release suggesting general safety tips, but would not disclose what type of incident had occurred prompting the safety tips, let alone where or when. No description was included in that initial release, although the woman had provided a rough description of her attacker in the 911 call she made, according to a transcript.
The woman was raped after she stopped to help a man lying facedown on the ground near a piece of equipment just off Forest Service Road 711. The victim told a 911 dispatcher that her assailant had a gun, and that he told her that if she didn’t follow his orders that he would kill her.
“We released the information as soon as we could,” said Stevin Westcott, public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service. “It may appear that it may have been delayed … but that was to not compromise the case.”
The public “would just have to trust” the federal agents involved that the situation was handled properly, “and the wheels of justice were in motion,” Westcott said.
The U.S. Forest Service in North Carolina is not called on to investigate violent crimes very often, or handle the ensuing media deluge that follows. There were no cases of violent crime, of any type, at any of North Carolina’s four national forests in 2010, according to the public information officer.
A suspect hadn’t been apprehended as of press time Tuesday. Westcott described the effort to find the rapist as a multi-agency effort involving federal, state and local law enforcement.
“We are working hard to get it solved,” he said.
The suspect is described as a white male, 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, between the ages of 30 and 40, having brown wavy short hair, no facial hair, green to blue eyes, having a deep voice and a fair complexion. The suspect was last seen wearing dark blue jeans and a medium blue shirt.
Anyone with information is asked to call the U.S. Forest Service in Asheville at 828.257.4200 or Macon County Crimestoppers at 828.349.2600.