UPDATE: 12:34 p.m. – The two victims of two reported sexual assaults in Vermillion are USD students.
Vermillion Police Department Captain Chad Passick said both victims are female and both are of age. The assaults happened hours apart, one in a dorm at USD and the other off-campus. The off-campus assault didn’t happen in a residence, but outside in the community.
Passick said VPD was alerted to the incidents on Monday, but did not alert the university until Wednesday because they believed there was no imminent threat to the community. He said there is no evidence yet that the two assaults are connected, but said it’s uncommon for two sexual assualts to happen in close proximity in time to one another. Passick said police believe the two victims knew the people who assaulted them.
“We are comfortable with our investigation and feel the community is not in any more danger than they were a week ago,” he said during a press conference Thursday morning.
The three persons of interests have been contacted by VPD and are not suspects in the case. At least one of the persons of interest does not live in Vermillion. VPD said the photos of the persons of interest, which were sent out to USD students last night in an email, were not given to USD by VPD and it was USD’s decision to publish them.
Tena Haraldson, the director of communications for USD, said the photos came from the police.
“The photos came from the police department and they came from the investigation, but I don’t know how they got them,” she said.
Haraldson said the university is required by the federal government to alert students if they feel the need to for students’ safety.
“We really felt in this case that it was appropriate to alert them,” she said.
UPDATE 8:31 a.m. – In a statement from the University Police Department, Lt. Jef Rice said VPD and UPD recieved a report of a sexual assualt in Coyote Village.
“No arrests have been made, but police are continuing to investigate. No further information is available at this time,” he said.
UPDATE 9:50 p.m. – In a press release from VPD two hours after the alert, Chief Matt Betzen said police have no reason to believe there is a continuing threat to the community.
“In general, Vermillion continues to be a safe community, and while events of this nature can be shocking, we have no reason to believe this event has increased the danger to the general public.”
The Vermillion Police Department is investigating two alleged sexual assaults.
In an Everbridge alert sent out to students Wednesday evening, USD University Relations said one of the sexual assaults happened on-campus and one happened off-campus. The Everbridge emergency alert system is used to notify students and faculty of university emergencies. Kim Grieve, dean of students at USD, is in charge of issuing alerts.
Three photos of “persons of interest” in connection with the assualts have been released. None of the persons of interest are USD students, according to the email.
“Our first priority is the safety of our students and people in our campus community,” USD President James Abbott said in a statement. “We don’t want to panic people, but at the same time we have a responsibility to make people aware of a possible safety concern.”
Tena Haraldson, director of communications for USD, said Grieve has confirmed none of the persons of interest are USD students. She also said Abbott made the decision to send the alert out to students. Both incidents happened Sunday, but were not immediately reported.
Haraldson said she was unsure if there is an imminent threat to USD students.
“The people who are alleged to have done this are not arrested and they are not USD students. People are going to have to come to their own conclusion,” Haraldson said.
Both VPD and the University Police Department are investigating. VPD has taken the lead in the investigation and the police are looking to talk with the three persons of interest. A phone number or call to action was not included in the Everbridge alert, and Haraldson said it was assumed students would call the police if they knew the individuals in the photos.
“We just kind of figured people would know to do that,” she said.
UPD officer Justin Sangster said the department will release an official statement tomorrow.
“We’re still doing an investigation,” he said.
Haraldson said people should use caution.
“This is just an allegation at this point and these are just people the police want to talk to. By putting these pictures in there we’re not saying any of the three of them are the guilty,” Haraldson said. “We wouldn’t put out an Everbridge alert if we didn’t have a safety concern. The way this is looking, people should use caution.”
(Photo: Tena Haraldson, director of communications for USD, speaks about two reported sexual assaults and how USD is handling the situation during a press conference with local media Thusday morning. Malachi Petersen / The Volante)
Trent Opstedahl and Michael Geheren contributed to this report. This is a developing story. Check back for updates.