Sophomore Esther Trujillo wondered why a big, navy blue pickup wouldn’t make a turn after she tried to wave it on before crossing South Academy Street around 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 21.
When she looked in the car, the two teenage boys in the front seat looked down at their phones. But as Trujillo walked down West Brooks Street toward the Kappa Kappa Gamma House, their headlights turned on behind her.
She heard the thud of feet hitting ground. Trujillo, a Chicago native, is no stranger to staying alert. She turned around, fists raised.
Someone in a gorilla suit was lumbering toward her, arms out.
“What are you doing? Knock it off!” she screamed.
She stood her ground and the person in the costume ran back to the truck, which drove away toward West Berrien Street. Trujillo took off after it, phone out for a license plate snapshot, despite her heavy backpack.
A string of incidents like Trujillo’s, when female students were approached or even attacked by strangers, have occurred this term. While a rise in such incidents compared to previous years has not been confirmed, they have raised security concerns among some members of the Knox community.
Trujillo felt confused and shaken after the incident.
“They could have taken me,” she said. “I don’t know what their intentions were.”
She remembered her shock upon learning that her sorority sister, sophomore Kyleigh Guthals, had been punched near the Quads on Oct. 7, a minute’s walk from where Trujillo’s incident occurred.
Guthals had been walking back to her dorm from Seymour Union after dinner around 7:30 p.m., talking on the phone with her boyfriend, when she noticed an unfamiliar group of five or six teenage boys. She stepped a few feet off the path between Post Hall and the Quads to make room for them.
Suddenly, a fist came out of nowhere, punching her in the mouth. Her phone fell to the ground and the group of boys scattered toward Seymour.
Touching her lip in disbelief, Guthals felt gushing blood.
The assault felt unreal afterward, but over the course of the next week, her swollen lip served as a reminder that it did occur.
Director of Campus Safety Mark Welker has been on campus for four months and can only compare the events that have happened during his time at Knox to reports from previous years. He said that while his department saw a few incidents occur close together, he does not think that there has necessarily been a rise compared to past years.
He noted that sometimes word spreads on social media and students and their families become confused about what events have actually taken place.
“I would not say that I’ve seen an uptick. We saw two or three incidents that occurred fairly close together which I think made us all have a heightened sense of concern,” Welker said. “I know when things happen, sometimes the word spreads and before you know it one assault becomes three assaults.”
When Guthals needs to go somewhere at night now, she feels anxious. She calls Campus Safety or walks with at least two friends.
“I look outside and think, ‘Can I make it? Can I not make it?’” she said.
The farthest she’s walked by herself in the dark since the incident is from the door of Drew Hall to her car parked across the street. Even then, she runs.
Guthals was amazed by how quickly Campus Safety showed up when she called later that night.
“They were there before I knew it, which made me feel a lot better,” she said. The police followed soon after.
Detective Kevin Legate of the Galesburg Police Department has been working to investigate Guthals’ case. He began by tracking down a group of non-student juveniles that appeared on campus four days after Guthals’ attack, but said that those individuals do not appear to be connected to the case after speaking with them and their parents.
Legate continues to work with Guthals and update her on her case as the investigation remains open.
“Unfortunately because there is no other physical evidence, no other witnesses, no video, we kind of leave it open unless we get any other leads on it,” Legate said.
Currently, the Galesburg Police Department is investigating a trespassing incident that occurred the night of Nov. 3 when three subjects entered student apartments at 240 W. Tompkins St. Legate said that there is a possibility that this incident could be connected with Guthals’ case.
“This group could certainly be the one responsible for maybe striking Guthals. I don’t know that yet, they could or could not be,” he said.
Junior Riya Tiwari said she was pushed to the ground by a stranger approximately five weeks ago after exiting through the backdoor of the “Exec” apartments at 240 W. Tompkins St. She was on her way to a midterm. By the time she looked behind her, all she saw was a man in a hoodie and jeans running away from her.
She reported the incident to Campus Safety later that night, but did not think to report it to the police. Now she wishes that she had taken the time to report the incident sooner and also called the police.
“It was just a push, I wasn’t hurt or anything. So I just felt like I shouldn’t make a big deal out of it maybe. But now that I think about it, it’s like I should have, just because people were continuously being harassed in some way,” Tiwari said.
Freshman Eli Adams was confronted by a person in a gorilla suit like Trujillo. Adams chose not to report the incident.
Adams and their roommate, freshman Pei Koroye, were walking down South Cherry Street on Nov. 5 around 8 p.m. when the man jumped out of the bed of a pickup parked on West Tompkins Street and ran towards them. The roommates stood their ground and the man ran around them, then hopped back in the truck bed as Adams shouted at him.
“If it happened again, I would have reported it,” said Adams. “We were capable of coming out of it and laughing about it … but it could have had way more adverse consequences.”
Legate and Welker both emphasized that students should not hesitate to contact Campus Safety or the police if they have something happen to them. The sooner they make the call, the better.
“If something does happen, call immediately. The quicker we get it brought to our attention, the better chance we have of solving it. That means that the suspect could be in that area still,” Legate said.
Even if students feel like an incident is insignificant, Welker said they should call his department anyway.
“We don’t want them to feel strange about it or feel that they’re overreacting. If it doesn’t look right, it might not be right,” Welker said.
Like Guthals, Trujillo also reported her incident to Galesburg police, but she said GPD has told her there haven’t been any recent leads. Legate was unaware of Trujillo’s incident.
Without having the statistics at hand, Legate said that he personally has not noticed a significant rise in crime on the Knox campus in his department.
“I wouldn’t say it’s any more, I wouldn’t say it’s any less. Certain crimes might increase while others decrease and it kind of all balances out,” Legate said.
Welker noted that he went on a safety walk with members of Student Senate on Oct. 22 to identify areas that needed increased lighting, improved sidewalks and possibly emergency poles.
Overall, he was pleased with the lighting on campus, but has identified a few areas that could use increased lighting. Director of Facilities Scott Maust is currently identifying fixes that can be done immediately — like replacing light bulbs — and will continue to discuss long-term lighting additions and fixes with Welker.
Welker also hopes to host a self-defense workshop for students. He is in the process of selecting a program most suitable to meet the campus’s needs.
Tiwari has noticed that as the weather gets colder, students often avoid walking outside and instead choose to drive. She suggested that students avoid doing this and make their presence known by walking on campus.
“If people don’t walk outside, obviously townies will feel secure to come into our space,” Tiwari said. “Everyone should feel safe, just because it’s their home.”
Trujillo wants to see the administration do something about the recent safety concerns: provide better lighting, install more emergency boxes, increase 24-hour Campus Safety staff.
“Campus Safety’s quick to jump on the Gators Saturday night,” she said. “They’re quick to be out here, they’re quick to shut down parties, but when it’s 7:30 [or] 8:30 at night, they’re nowhere to be found,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo has always felt safe at Knox and in town. But whenever cars pull up behind her now, she feels anxious.
Her mother, who’s seen how dorm keys unlock multiple halls and provide no means of tracking who comes and goes, suggested pulling her out of Knox. But Trujillo isn’t giving up without a fight. She wants to rally support among fellow students and speak to administration, possibly through an open forum.
“I can’t hold my silence any longer,” she said. “If something else does happen on this campus, what’s it going to take?”