Update 2:27 p.m.: Brianna Denison murdered by serial rapist, authorities say
RENO, Nev. (AP) ” A 19-year-old college student missing since she was abducted nearly a month ago was strangled by a serial rapist who has attacked at least two other women and may strike again, Reno police said today.
An autopsy confirmed that a dead woman found Friday in a brush-covered field by a business park on the city’s south side was Brianna Denison and that she died of strangulation, Reno Deputy Police Chief Jim Johns said.
Her body had been in the field for more than a week about 8 miles from the house where she last was seen early Jan. 20 at the edge of the University of Nevada, Reno, he said.
“I would say this is a serial rapist,” Johns said at a news conference. “We have two, probably three (cases) linked through DNA.”
“The totality of the information in this case leads us to believe it is a sexually motivated crime,” he said. “I’m worried this guy is still out there, and I’m worried somebody else is going to get hurt.”
Campus officers will do all they can to support investigators “in hunting this animal down and bringing him to justice, said university Police Chief Adam Garcia.
“No doubt we are on a hunt now,” added Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick.
Heavy snowfall over the past few weeks may have delayed the discovery of her body, police said.
Denison was abducted Jan. 20 by a suspected rapist that police have linked by DNA to a string of attacks near the Reno campus. A student at Santa Barbara City College in California, she was visiting her hometown over winter break and was last seen sleeping on a couch at a friend’s rental house just off campus.
Police said DNA evidence links Denison’s kidnapping to two other attacks on women near the university late last year, and that an earlier on-campus attack also could be related.
Based on partial descriptions from previous victims, police have described the suspect as a white male between the ages of 28 and 40 who is at least 5-foot-6, with a long face and brown hair. He was believed to have normal speech with no accent or regional dialect.
Johns said the killer’s familiarity with the city suggests he likely lives in Reno. Johns said he believes the “chances are very good” they will catch him.
“It could be tomorrow, next month, next year. We are going to find this suspect,” he told reporters.
The killer probably lives near the campus just north of the downtown casino district or on the city’s nearby northwest side, Johns said, and he may work closer to the city’s southeast side where the body was found.
“Somewhere in our community there is a wife, a mom, a girlfriend, a sister who recognizes this suspect. Likely he looks like somebody you would least suspect, but that is the person who is responsible for this crime,” he said.
Johns said publicity of the manhunt may cause the rapist to halt his attacks, but “our absolute fear is he may re-offend.”
Johns said they recovered evidence at the scene that will aid in the investigation but declined to describe it. He also said they didn’t want to be any more specific about how long the body had been in the field because that was something only the killer and law officers know.
Denison’s disappearance generated an outpouring of support from the community. Hundreds of volunteers aided in daily searches in and around Reno, and electronic casino marquees featured her photograph.
One of the “Bring Bri Back” fliers with her photo and information about a suspect and suspect vehicle was tacked to a telephone pole on the corner of the field where her body was found about noon on Friday.
Associated Press writer Scott Sonner contributed to this report.
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