The crime was awful. It also never happened, according to local law enforcement officials.
A woman’s claim that she was abducted from the Goshen College campus and raped was false, Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill Jr. said during a press conference in Elkhart Monday. Now prosecutors are filing a Class D felony charge of obstruction of justice against Jessica De La Vega, 19, Elkhart.
Vega isn’t currently enrolled at GC, but was a student at the time of the reported attack in January, said Richard Aguirre, the college’s director of public relations.
Vega was not in police custody Monday.
“For almost two months now, this community has been under siege with apprehension over the allegation of the abduction and rape of a young college co-ed, with the associated anxiety and fear that this suspect was still at large and possibly searching for a new victim,” Hill said. “Upon our review of the Goshen Police Department’s determination that the report was false, our first responsibility is to inform the public to alleviate any immediate concerns that we have a predator lurking in our community related to this incident.”
Early Jan. 18, Hill said, Vega told Goshen police she had been abducted from the GC campus by a white male with a knife. Vega said the man demanded she drive to the parking area of the Rieth Interpretive Center across from Goshen’s Shanklin Park, where he raped her.
Goshen police issued a press release about the attack, and publicized a composite drawing of a suspect, Hill said. Police also partnered with Crime Stoppers in an attempt to gather more information.
“The community response in this case was significant, and awareness appeared to increase,” Hill said.
However, detectives became suspicious about the truth of the reported attack due to “contradictory information” developed in the investigation, the prosecutor said.
“Detectives found evidence contradicting the young woman’s story (and) placing her in a neighboring county where she was socializing with a friend during the time that the attack was reported to have occurred,” Hill said. He said Goshen detectives confronted Vega about their concerns, and she admitted that the abduction and rape didn’t happen.
By that time around 200 man-hours of public resources had been expended on the investigation.
“What that means is that for every one hour that the Goshen Police Department put into this investigation, that was one hour of justice that didn’t occur for someone else,” Hill said.
He added that while it’s fortunate the incident didn’t lead to the arrest of an innocent person, “(the) reality is that our police officers work very hard to bring sexual predators to justice, and these false allegations could have resulted in a miscarriage of justice.”
Hill declined comment on why Vega allegedly lied to police, saying the case is ongoing.
The D felony obstruction charge is punishable by a maximum three-year prison term.
At Goshen College
GC officials heard from the prosecutor and police Monday that the assault didn’t occur. The news was unexpected, according to a letter sent to students, faculty and staff from Bill Born, vice president of student life and dean of students.
“We know authorities spent many hours on this case, and we thank them for their efforts,” Born stated.
According to Born, GC officials “continue to move forward with prior security decisions made during the fall of 2010, such as entry control system implementation for residential housing units, on-going campus education and enhanced campus security for the 2011-12 school year.
“For the immediate time being, we intend to maintain the measures taken to secure the campus following the alleged assault on Jan. 18, but we will also reassess them because we recognize that some students will expect some reconsideration of these steps.”
Born stated that on behalf of the President’s Council, “I invite your prayers on behalf of the individual involved in this situation, her family and all those affected by this difficult situation.”
“It was more shock at first, and then frustration,” said Sarah Rutt, a GC junior, when she read the e-mail sent to students, faculty and staff about the false report.
“We’ve been through so much” this spring after the community was shocked at the report of a rape of a student.”We have been on edge. My roommates were shocked and frustrated.
“There were so many security changes, they were good. The college had to up security. It is not the college’s fault,” Rutt said.
Other students were also trying to make sense of the false report.
“The first thing I thought was this stuff doesn’t happen on campus,” began Sunday Mahaja, a freshman international student who lives off-campus. “I remembered that I was on the street that night when she reported she was raped.”
“The whole Goshen area is a peaceful place,” Mahaja said. “I don’t know what to think” about the false report.
The campus reaction may have been to draw the community closer together, but the security measures have meant inconvenience for some students.
“We came together as a community” after the rape was reported in January, said Stacy Wyse, a freshman. “I thought it was annoying to lock the doors.
“Walking together in groups made us more aware that something could happen. Before that, it never occurred that a rape could happen here on campus.”
“It was weird after it happened,” said Billy Funk, a junior. “You could just feel the fear. I had fear for any of my female friends.”
He said the report of the violence even affected track practice, as the team did not allow a female runner to run alone after dark.
Locking the doors at dormitories affects the ease of visitation, Funk said. “It cuts off the community, when you can’t freely go visit others without getting a door unlocked,” Funk said. “Now are you supposed to let your guard down? It throws me off,” he said after reading the e-mail about the false report.