Officials try to clear up rape rumors

Officials try to clear up rape rumors
Schoolchildren play in the park alongside PS 127 in East Elmhurst where a woman last week alleged she had been raped. Police have said there are inconsistencies in the woman’s account. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Jeremy Walsh

East Elmhurst residents, alarmed by conflicting reports of a rape in a park next to an elementary school last week, did not get complete answers at a community meeting Friday, but they did get a chance to discuss the implications the news had on their community.

Rumors abounded March 11 after reports that an early−morning rape occurred near PS 127 on 25th Avenue.

“Word spread through the news, text messages and e−mail,” said City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D−East Elmhurst), who organized the event at the First Baptist Church on Astoria Boulevard in the hopes of getting the various civic organizations and city agencies to network.

Police said a woman in her 30s was walking home from work when she was grabbed by a pair of Hispanic men, dragged into the park next to PS 127 and raped. The next day news reports citing anonymous police sources said the woman’s story was false and she made it up as an excuse for coming home late and drunk.

Police at a community meeting Friday would not confirm that account, citing an ongoing investigation.

“Yes, there was an incident reported as a rape,” Detective Adriane Johnson said. “It’s not as clear−cut as it may have seemed.”

But though residents took the news reports at face value, their perception of the neighborhood remained shaken.

“I’m glad it was not what it seemingly was in the beginning,” said East Elmhurst−Corona Civic Association member Lynda McDougal, but she noted there are other problems in the neighborhood, including a regular thief who steals the lug nuts from parked cars.

“You kind of walk differently in East Elmhurst,” she said. “On Roosevelt Avenue, I kind of carry my bag a little closer. What this did for me was [make me say,] ‘What are some of the things I’m lax about?’”

Others were angrier about how a false rape report could damage the trust in the community.

“I think it’s a dangerous precedent to set,” said District Leader George Dixon, who worried that a false crime report could send police out and result in the injury or death of someone resembling suspects described in the report. “Now you’ve got us walking around looking at young men, wondering if they’re involved in something.”

He called for the full prosecution of the woman if the report turned out to be false.

Principal Evita Sanabria of PS 127 said the full day of police and media surrounding the school took its toll on the staff’s nerves, but she reassured parents in the audience.

“It was a bit rough for us because part of the math exam was that day,” she said, but noted “the children going in or coming out were completely safe.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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