Face of a Serial Rapist Has Reno on Edge

Police are now calling the man wanted in the abduction of Brianna Denison, a 19-year-old Reno, Nev., woman who vanished almost two weeks ago, a serial rapist after matching his DNA evidence to at least two other attacks in recent months.

They also released a sketch of a suspect, based on a description from one of four women police say have been targeted in a string of attacks that all occured on or near the University of Nevada-Reno campus.

"We've been calling him a serial rapist," Lt. Robert McDonald, a spokesman for the Reno Police Department, told ABC News. "It is what it is. You've got a guy here in four instances and all he's trying to do is rape young women, all of them in good shape with long hair.


"He certainly has a target group in mind," McDonald said.

The grim portrait of the suspect has emerged after DNA recovered from the scene of Denison's apparent kidnapping was matched to two sex assaults that happened in the same Reno neighborhood, one in November and one in December.

On Jan. 20, the 19-year-old Denison, back in her hometown for winter break from Santa Barbara City College, vanished from a friend's off-campus rental house. Police say she was last seen going to sleep on her friend's couch for the night after they attended a party at a Reno casino.

Authorities released the information tying the three off-campus cases through DNA Thursday night in an attempt to get the public's help and apprehend a man who has left an entire college community spooked and a city on guard.

University police released a composite sketch of a man described by a victim in an October on-campus assault who may be responsible for all four incidents. He is described as a white male, about 5 feet, 8 inches tall, with light-colored short hair. There is a chance, authorities caution, that the suspect -- or possibly suspects -- in the four cases may not exactly match the artist's rendering. But they also believe that there is enough evidence to link the three DNA cases to the fourth one on the Reno campus.

Police say the time line of DNA and victim accounts can be traced back to an incident at an on-campus parking garage in October. In that case, a student reported being attacked from behind and sexually assaulted on the first floor of a parking garage between two parked cars. It was the only one of the four cases in which the suspect flashed a weapon -- a silver and black handgun.

The second reported attack also took place between two parked cars, this time outside an apartment complex within eyeshot of the campus parking garage. The woman who was attacked screamed, prompting the assailant to jump up, kick the woman and run away. Near the scene of the attack, authorities found a box of Trojan brand condoms that McDonald said the man may have dropped as he fled.

About a month later, another woman was attacked just blocks away. In that instance, the woman was abducted, brought to another house, raped, and then returned home. It may have been the most brazen attack yet, but it also provided authorities the best details to describe the suspect. He was driving a large vehicle, likely an extended cab pickup that requires a step to climb into. There was a baby shoe on the floor of the vehicle and paper strewn about.

That victim described the suspect as roughly in his 30s, with a square chin and muscular build. He had an "innie" belly button, police said, and had shaved his pubic hair. He had some facial hair, did not smell of alcohol, cigarettes or cologne, and spoke with no noticeable regional dialect, according to the victim.

In all four instances, the suspect was wearing casual clothing, like a hooded sweatshirt or jersey and warm-up style pants. The crimes, authorities say, do seem to be escalating in their nature.

Brianna Denison disappeared on early Sunday morning, Jan. 20. She sent a final text message at 4:23 a.m. after returning from a party in the city.

A friend woke up about five hours later to find that Denison, who had been sleeping on a couch near an unlocked door to the rental property, was gone and a silver-dollar size trace of blood had been left behind on her pillow. Tests later showed that it was Denison's blood.

It's been nearly two weeks since Denison vanished and while her family, friends and authorities try to remain hopeful, the situation is grim. "Every day that goes by, it's worse," McDonald admitted.

Todd Renwick, the associate director of the University of Nevada-Reno police services, told ABC News that students as well as members of the broader campus community are "losing sleep" over fears of being the suspect's next target.

"We have to try to calm down the campus," Renwick said, adding that they are fielding far more calls from concerned students than ever before. That's both a good thing and a bad thing, he explained. On the one hand, students are being more vigilant. On the other, students are clearly frightened.

"When you look at the overall scheme, you can still say the campus is safe," he said. "But we have thousands of people who are frightened to go from Point A to Point B."

The Reno police department continues to follow up on "hundreds" of leads. They have interviewed sex offenders in the area and have asked some men identified through tip lines as possible suspects to submit voluntary DNA samples, which he described as an "easy, quick, unobtrusive process" for eliminating someone.

Authorities are urging members of the Reno public to watch for subtle changes in behavior and appearance that may tip off a suspect. They say that the man may be an unlikely match for the crimes, living an otherwise seemingly normal life with a wife or a girlfriend.

The case has become a central focus for the Reno Police Department, McDonald said, with signs hanging around the station that read "Find Bri," short for Denison's first name. It also has trained a spotlight on a backlog of DNA samples submitted by criminals and suspected criminals in Washoe County that have not yet been logged into the law enforcement database.

Already, donations have come forward from local businesses to cover the estimated $200,000 price tag needed to end the backlog by hiring an independent lab to handle the DNA processing. Still, McDonald said, that process will take up to two months. Money has also been made available to turn around DNA samples involved in the suspected serial rape case within two days.

While the cause for concern is obvious, McDonald said, they are intent on finding the man they believe is responsible for the string of sexual assaults. "We will find this individual," he said. "If it is not tomorrow, this week, this month or this year, this guy will pop up.

"There is no statute of limitation on this."