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News of sex assault withheld from public

October 28, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Hagerstown City Police waited two days to announce that a 14-year-old girl was sexually assaulted at knifepoint inside North Hagerstown High School because they feared publicity would have jeopardized their investigation.

But some said Monday's sexual assault should have been made public earlier so students could have been more cautious in the two days between the assault and arrest Wednesday evening.

Most North High students and their parents were first told about the assault in a letter from Principal David Reeder that was sent home with students Thursday afternoon.

"I understand about their investigation, but what about the other students," said Jenny Belliotti, Washington County PTA Council president. "When you know what the danger is you can better protect yourself."

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Jennifer Aiken, Washington County student council president and a junior at North High, said rumors of the attack have been circulating since Tuesday.

"It's not good to hear anything through the rumor mill," Aiken said.

"I think we should have known about it earlier. It happened Monday night and we heard about it Thursday. It could have happened (again)," Aiken said.

Hagerstown Police interim-Chief Robert Hart said a statement about the incident wasn't sent out sooner because: "We were still investigating and had we released this (earlier) I don't think it would have come to a successful conclusion."

"Putting it in the newspaper gives them time to run," Hart said. "And how much more panic would there have been if we had put out that this happened and we didn't have suspects."

According to criminal charging documents, sometime after 5:15 p.m. Monday a 14-year-old girl was waiting by the rear of the school to be picked up by her mother when a man approached her on a bicycle.

The man asked her to check the locker room to see if his daughter was inside. The man followed her into the locker room and forcibly sodomized and sexually assaulted her, using a knife to threaten her.

The attacker was apparently scared off by a noise.

The girl called police Monday soon after the attack. She picked out her alleged attacker from a photo line-up Wednesday.

Then at about 8:20 p.m. Wednesday, Hagerstown City Police arrested Bradley Wayne Rinehart, 31, of 940 Main Ave., Hagerstown. Rinehart was charged with first-, second- and third-degree sex offense, unnatural and perverted sexual act, sodomy, theft, openly carrying a weapon with intent to injure, kidnapping, false imprisonment, first- and second-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

Thursday, Rinehart was being held without bond at the Washington County Detention Center.

A police department statement announcing the incident and subsequent arrest was sent to the media Wednesday at about 10:15 p.m.

Washington County Schools Deputy Superintendent Theresa Flak said the school system didn't immediately announce the incident "in deference to the family and the police department investigation."

Teachers, coaches and principals at other Washington County schools were told about the assault Tuesday, Flak said.

She said some coaches then warned the students under their care to be more careful.

Reeder could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Belliotti said: "I would have liked to see it on the news that night. I could have told my child to take extra precautions."

Aiken said she has helped adults look for a student inside the school.

"I've done the same as the girl did before. Looked for a student for a parent."

Aiken said she wouldn't do it anymore.

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