In the five days since an elderly Colorado Springs woman was sexually assaulted and robbed, the suspect's claim of being homeless has worried police and homeless advocates.
The homeless community has been on alert since an attack on the night of Feb. 7 near the intersection of Boulder Street and Circle Drive. Police said the victim first saw the suspect looking through her bedroom window. Despite having a gun, the suspect broke into her home and sexually assaulted her. He took the gun, a wallet containing $100 and a blue comforter from her sofa.
The suspect remains at large. He's described as a black man, 6 feet tall and clean-shaven with short hair, and wearing tan-colored work boots and overalls.
It's unclear if the suspect told the victim he's homeless to justify the crime, or to throw police off his trail. Some people in the neighborhood said they're familiar with a presumably homeless man who frequents the area and fits the suspect's description.
Police are asking the public -- especially the homeless community -- to watch for anyone fitting the description in shelters, soup kitchens and other areas frequented by the homeless.
Ron Price, a homeless man, said he's surprised to hear about the attack.
"I think if this guy was in the homeless community in the city, that the homeless community would know about it," said Price. "They would know his face. Somebody would know something."
"It's disturbing," said M.J. Thomson, a police officer and member of the Homeless Outreach Team. "But we stay in close contact with the homeless. They feel comfortable enough with us, to contact us if they see him."
Bob Holmes, a homeless advocate with Homeward Pikes Peak, said the suspect's behavior indicates someone who could be mentally ill. As many as half of the area's homeless have untreated mental illnesses, he said.
"Information spreads very rapidly among the homeless community," said Holmes. "I don't think -- from the people I know -- that they're going to be very happy to have this person identified as homeless. It's a stigma."
Holmes and other homeless advocates are worried that the attack and the suspect's claim of being homeless could worsen negative perceptions of the homeless and lead to some being targeted for reprisals.
"They already have a hard-enough time getting along, but now they've got kind of an extra burden to carry, where people are going to be looking at them, wondering if they're a criminal," said Holmes. "So I feel bad about that."
Contact police if you have any information about this case.