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.