TYLER, Texas — Like most days, Emily and her husband went for a run in Rose Rudman Park Thursday evening. However, this run in the park would be a night neither will soon forget.
"We had been walking down the trail and we noticed a gentleman with a hoodie on, dark clothing and the hood was pulled over his head," Emily said. "My husband and I had both mentioned that he kind of looked a little sketchy. His hands were stuffed in his pockets."
Despite finding the man suspicious, they kept moving forward.
However, later in the run, they encountered a man riding a bicycle asking if they heard someone yelling for help. They told the bicyclist they had been talking most of the time and did not hear anything.
"About five minutes later, we kept walking down the trail and we saw a young lady who was very frantically calling 911 to get help," Emily said.
Emily says the woman was shaken as she tried to explain what happened while desperately worrying about letting her family know she was OK.
"It was very heartbreaking to see her in the manner in which she was," Emily said. "She had some scrapes on her arms and her neck, and she was trying to tell us what was going on while still talking to the 911 operator, as well.”
Emily and her husband tried to provide as much comfort as possible to the woman, listening and piecing together what they believe happened from the time they initially saw the suspicious man on their run, to his attack and subsequent flight from the scene.
“From the moment we saw him, he only took maybe several more steps forward and sat at a bench close by from where we passed him and, I guess, waited there until the other girl came running by and he attacked her," Emily explained. "She said, potentially, he may have lost his shoe in the struggle. When he grabbed her, he pulled her into the woods. And she said that he had hit her several times in the head and the face trying to keep her quiet. But she just kept kicking and screaming for help, and she finally got away from him.”
As Emily continued to take care of the woman, she kept a keen eye on her surroundings to see if the woman's attacker was still in the area.
"I immediately looked in the woods to see if there was any movement. We didn’t see anything," Emily recalled. "We moved closer to that cancer bell there in the park just to get closer to more movement. So that if something else did happen, we were closer to other people that could potentially help us out if we did need it."
After Emily and her husband left the scene, the two immediately took a trip to the store to buy pepper spray to ensure they are protected for future runs in the park.
"When I’m by myself walking, I feel I am a little more observant of my surroundings, but definitely that hit really close to home because I am out here quiet a bit by myself," Emily said. "You just got to be aware of your surroundings and be able to think quick whenever something does happen.”
If there is a silver lining, it is the developing friendship between the two women.
"I’m hoping to catch up with her on Sunday to see how she’s doing and give her some things to make her feel a little more safe," Emily said. "She is valued and loved here in the community.”
According to Tyler police, the woman was attacked by a man on the middle trail, south of the Banks, around 7:30 p.m.
“After running by him, all of a sudden she heard someone running behind her," Don Martin, Tyler Police Department Public Information Officer, said. "So she turned around and then, he basically was right on top of her at that time.”
Police say the subject was armed with a knife at the time of the attack.
"He basically grabbed her, and then forced her off into a wood-thick area off the trial, about 10-20 yards, with the knife at her throat," Martin said. "Basically, he was attempting to sexually assault her.”
However, the woman continued to resist the attacker and eventually fought him off. She escaped with only minor cuts.
“She did a fantastic job in fighting him off and bringing attention to herself by screaming and everything, especially when he had a knife at her," Martin said. "More than likely the suspect, realizing that this was not going to the way that he had planned and the fact that she was screaming for her life, bringing attention to herself hoping that someone else was going to hear that she was in trouble, he basically said 'I’m going to get out of here.'"
The man left the area and has not been captured.
Police say the attacker is described as a black man in his 30s, who stood about 6'0'' and had a medium build. Police say the man had a "scruffy face."
"He was wearing a blue hooded-sweatshirt with dark pants or dark sweatpants, and that’s kind of all we have," Martin said. "This may have not been the first day that this suspect was down there. He may have been down there looking for that right opportunity."
Tyler police say the man took the victim's cell phone during the attack and threw it into a wooded area. Police were able to locate the phone and are using it to recovered fingerprints.
Police are also going to area businesses to check if the subject is on surveillance video.
"We’re asking anyone who might have video down in the merchant areas or even residents to check their videos," Martin said. "See if anyone matches that description that came into the store to maybe buy something or just lurk around."
If you have any information, you are urged to call the TPD at (903) 531-1000.
Police say runners, particularly females, should be vigilant when running alone and are encouraged to run in at least pairs at all times.
"When you’re out by yourself, especially in that area that’s isolated in the woods, you’re kind of putting yourself in a vulnerable situation," Martin said. "And have something to also help protect you, whether it be a little can of mace or something that you can hold in your hand for protection. Sometimes we say, ‘Hey throw a whistle around your neck, stick it down your shirt.’ That way you can blow it as loud as you can and it’ll pierce their ears and not only that, that sound is going to carry that someone may be in trouble.”