Community reacts to assault hoax with relief, anger and lots of questions
BY SHENEQUA A. GOLDING, MIKE NOLAN and CAROLE SHARWARKO, Staff writers
The rape of a 17-year-old sandwich shop worker wasn't real, but the steps women have taken to guard their personal safety in recent weeks is, Southland women said Saturday. The heightened concern that arose after the report of the violent attack was accompanied Saturday by shock, relief and anger as details of the girl's lie spread.
A troubled girl
At Palos Diner, across 111th Street from Stagg High School, Mary DiBrita and Lisa Bowman finished a late breakfast. They said they feel badly for the girl, adding that her actions seem like a desperate call for attention.
"She clearly has issues," said DiBrita, of Palos Hills. "I think she needs to see a therapist who can dig deep to find out what made her do this."
Joanne Hoglund, of Evergreen Park, said she hopes people just leave the girl and her family alone now.
"I feel sorry for her problems," Hoglund said. "For her to make up this story and carry it through as far as she did, something must be really wrong."
DiBrita and Bowman wondered whether the girl experienced a sexual assault in the past, and her lie was a strange attempt to bring it to the surface. Either way, news of the rape disturbed
them and inspired them to change some habits.
A neighborhood's (false) alarm
Bowman, who works as a waitress at Durbin's in Tinley Park, said bouncers there have walked female employees to their cars every night since the alleged incident.
They weren't the only ones who were scared enough by the news to look over their shoulders more often.
Cathy Baumann is co-owner of Baumann's Bakery in Palos Heights, immediately north of the T.J. Grinders sub shop, where the alleged abduction happened.
She said the incident led her to have "long talks" with her younger employees about what they should do, including calling the cops, if something seemed suspicious.
Although the bakery closes at 5:30 p.m., Baumann said she often would open the door for customers picking up an order late. She stopped doing that after the alleged attack.
Marianne Howley, a Palos Heights resident who lives near T.J. Grinders, said news of the rape sent her neighborhood into a frenzy.
"Every time I saw a black car (the girl told police her attacker's car was black), I wondered if it was him," Howley said.
The girl described her attacker with olive skin.
A sketch of a man with dark hair and eyes and a heavy mustache circulated the neighborhood. It also was posted on a huge poster along Harlem Avenue, making many residents conclude the attacker was Arab.
That part of the story made Kim Smith suspicious. The Evergreen Park resident said she felt bad for the girl at first, but thought the story sounded fishy.
"Something didn't seem right about it," Smith said. "It sounded too convenient that he was Arabic. I thought, 'Boy, that's an easy target.' I think there was bigger interest in it because of the Arab thing. If she said it was a white guy, it might not have got so much attention."
Jo Drucker, 70, of Evergreen Park, said she had a hunch the 17-year-old wasn't telling the truth.
"I think it's unfortunate when young people don't feel comfortable enough to go to their parents or whomever," Drucker said.
Marie Strutz, of Palos Heights, said children need to feel comfortable with their parents to open up.
"If one of my kids made the story up and she was 17, she would have a lot of grounding," Strutz said. "I feel sorry for her. Unless kids know they can have trust in you, they're not going to come and talk to you."
Gossip about the false accusation circulated for about two weeks, and Baumann said she heard it from customers.
"People were saying they had heard rumors that she'd made it up," Baumann said.
She admitted there were parts of the story that made her skeptical. "As a mother, it just didn't jibe."
Mary Gallagher, 39, of Worth, wondered what would have happened if police had caught someone who resembled the girl's description of her "attacker."
"Why would someone make that up? There's obviously something wrong," Gallagher said. "I mean, even the association with (rape) after he was cleared would always haunt him."
The girl probably wants to be left alone, said Cecilia Andrews, of Chicago's Roseland neighborhood. Andrews was working on a class assignment at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills.
Even though she doesn't know the whole story, Andrews said people shouldn't make up their minds one way or the other right now.
"It sounds like a pretty elaborate tale. I've told some fibs in my day, but that's a big one," Andrews said. "I would want to know why she said that (she was raped). Is she really recanting because she made it up or because she just wants to be done with it?"
Make her pay?
Andrews said the girl should not be prosecuted or have to repay money from the investigation, especially since the girl never named a specific person.
"I think there are a lot of people who probably want her to pay the money back," Andrews said. "But she has made her apologies."
Jim Kocim, 54, of Palos Heights was upset to know police time was wasted investigating a false claim. The investigation is said to have cost more than $250,000.
"It's very upsetting the (Palos Heights police) took the time from all those police detectives only for her selfish reason," Kocim said. "It's a shame."
Kevin McClain thinks the girl should have to repay the village, since it was taxpayer dollars that went toward finding a nonexistent attacker.
"I think they should have told her that she wouldn't be prosecuted to get her to confess and then prosecuted her anyway," said McClain, of Tinley Park. "I think it's not a surprise that she lied.
People lie and make things up for their own entertainment."
Bowman said she's glad the village won't press charges against the girl, or go after her parents for the money spent on the investigation.
"It's not the parents' fault," said Bowman, of Chicago Ridge. "They're probably just as distraught as the police department about all this."
The girl's motivation might change DiBrita's and Bowman's opinions. If she had money or revenge in mind, the women think she should be held accountable.
Either way, McClain said he thinks the incident will make life harder for future rape victims.
Police might not believe a woman, and may not respond as quickly because of their doubts.
"Then it will make it even more traumatic for someone who's dealing with something that's already traumatic," McClain said. "What do they say about the boy who cried wolf?"
Girl had 'very big error of judgement'
Teen who fabricated assault story will do community service
By KIM JANSSEN, Staff writer
The girl who cried wolf in the Palos Heights rape case has agreed to do community service as penance, her attorney said Saturday as the public reacted with a mixture of sympathy and outrage to news that a hoax was behind one of the Southland’s biggest criminal investigations.
Police officially closed their investigation into the alleged Sept. 16 abduction and rape of the 17-year-old Stagg High School senior Friday afternoon after the girl confessed to fabricating the story.
Her family released a statement offering their “deepest apologies” to the community Friday. Rumors that her story was untrue had circulated openly for two weeks.
Her original allegation that she had been kidnapped from T.J. Grinders sandwich shop in the 12200 block of South Harlem Avenue and subjected to a three-hour sexual ordeal at knifepoint by an “olive-skinned” man prompted an estimated $250,000 police probe, provoked widespread fear and stoked anti-Arab sentiment in the diverse neighborhood.
Racial fallout ‘unintentional’
Speaking Saturday, her family’s attorney, Martin Dolan, said the girl and her family “understand the anger that this has caused.”
In an apparent reference to the anti-Arab feelings stirred by her false claims, Dolan said the family was particularly sorry “for any ill feelings this has caused against particular ethnic groups,” stressing that the fallout was “entirely unintentional.”
Once the girl, who is “suffering from some pretty serious emotional problems” has completed counselling and is “back on her feet,” she will volunteer with the village, Dolan said.
“The family is extremely remorseful,” he said. “This was an immature kid who made a very big error of judgement and never intended for this to rise to the level it did.”
Police accepted the offer of community service when the girl confessed Friday, Dolan said.
Detective Dave Delaney said he believed the family — who were not at home Friday night or Saturday — were “doing everything they can to make this thing right.”
“They’re going through a pretty tough time right now,” Delaney said.
Community service at the police department normally includes chores like washing squad cars, weeding the lawn and flower beds and non-sensitive paperwork, Delaney said.
Details about how many service hours the girl will complete and when she will do them are not yet finalized.
Girl won’t be charged
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said Friday they will not charge the girl or pursue her family for the cost of the investigation.
Detectives negotiated to have the girl confess in return for a guarantee not to prosecute her, police sources say.
In the absence of a confession, there was insufficient evidence to bring charges, the sources said. Concern for the girl’s well-being also weighed in the decision not to press charges.
Dolan said the family never could hope to pay for the cost of the investigation but that they hoped their daughter’s contrition would be demonstrated by her service.
“The community service is never going to make up for the sum of the anger that may exist, but to punish this girl with criminal charges that makes it impossible to get a job when she is older isn’t going to help,” he said.
Gifts given to the girl and the family in the wake of her rape claims will be donated to rape victim charities, Dolan said.
Calls for support
The Rev. Edward Cronin, pastor of St. Alexander’s Church, on Saturday called on neighbors and schoolmates to support the girl who fabricated a story about being abducted and sexually assaulted Sept. 16.
“People understandably are asking questions and they are angry,” he said. “And of course she needs to take responsibility for what she did, but I think people will be sensitive to her.
“We need to show tremendous compassion and try to help.”
Palos Heights Ald. Jean Gnap echoed Cronin’s message.
“If anyone has any charity in their heart they would think of what the family must have gone through and say a prayer that they can pull through this difficult time,” she said.
A team of 30 detectives had worked around the clock with the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force to search for the alleged rapist in the immediate aftermath of the girl’s report.
She had texted a pal twice during the evening of Sept. 16, telling him a “creepy” man was watching her through the window at the sandwich shop where she worked — just yards from and in full view of a fire station.
About 9 p.m., she called her friend and asked him to pick her up and drive her home, saying the man had returned as she closed the shop.
But by the time the friend, a fellow senior at Stagg, arrived just minutes later, the girl was missing and her bag and cigarettes were scattered on the sidewalk.
Police immediately launched a manhunt and were at the girl’s home, interviewing her parents, when she walked up the driveway barefoot and unkempt, claiming to have been raped.
T. J. Grinders owner Mark Holda endured public criticism in the days following the girl’s accusation, as residents questioned why he had allowed the girl to work alone at night.
Holda took to the streets to assist in the investigation, handing out fliers and saying the girl was confident working alone.
He declined to comment Saturday as he tried to rebuild his damaged business.
Workers in neighboring stores — many of whom joined the criticism of him last month — said he walked up and down the 12200 block of South Harlem Avenue Friday afternoon tearing down wanted posters.