by Jennifer Katz
Six months after her then-17-year-old daughter was attacked while jogging along the Wissahickon, Jennifer Martin is still determined to make it a safer place for women. Last week Martin and Friends of the Wissahickon announced that FOW would be taking over the administration of the Take Back the Wissahickon Fund.
Martin and several of her friends started the fund to raise reward money for anyone with information leading to the arrest of the man who attacked her daughter. The man, they believe to be the Fairmount Park rapist.
“It was one of those bizarrely warm April days,” said Martin of the morning her daughter left their house, which borders the park, for a jog. “She saw him on her way out, she noticed him, did the loop and he was still there.”
Nervous and unsure of what to do, Martin’s daughter removed her headphones from her ears and continued to jog.
“She didn’t want to offend him,” said Martin. “She didn’t want to seem racist.”
As she passed him a second time, the man grabbed her and pushed her into the bushes. The young woman fought him off and ran until she found someone else in the park to ask for help.
“Luckily, she fought like a tiger,” Martin said. “She got away from him. She was really, really lucky.”
Both Martin and her daughter ran regularly in the park. The daughter in the morning and the mother in the afternoon. Many of Martin’s close friends are also runners and in fact, before the police called her, friends called to warn her from running that day because “someone had been attacked.”
That morning two of Martin’s friends, Janice Manzi and Jennifer Selata were running along the same trails when, as they finished their run, they noticed the police cars. Manzi was shocked to see her friend’s daughter in the back of one of the cruisers.
“I’ve been running in the park for 28 years, five days a week,” Manzi said. “I met my husband running in the park. It’s why I live in Philadelphia, why I live in Chestnut Hill and why I will never move from this neighborhood.
“I cannot explain how angry it makes me that someone was accosted there. It’s a place of solace.”
After the attack, Martin – a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and married to Chestnut Hill architect Muscoe Martin – and her family were devastated.
“It was incredibly traumatic,” she said.
Their daughter received counseling and is now a freshman in college and doing well, Martin said, but “it took a long time.”
The attack really angered her as well, but she was also shocked by the negative comments she heard, questioning her parental judgment in allowing her daughter to run in the park alone.
Maureen Rush is a former Philadelphia police officer and the Vice-President of the Division of Public Safety at the University of Pennsylvania.
“We don’t have to be scared, we have to be aware,” she told Martin after the attack. “Women have more at stake.”
Determined to “do something,” Martin consulted with Rush and contacted the Citizens Crime Commission of Delaware Valley. Composed of former cops, the commission is essentially an anonymous tip line people can use to call law enforcement with information.
“They said if we can put a reward out there, it might help,” Martin said.
Through hundreds of donations, Martin raised $10,000 to offer as a reward for information on the rapist. While police officials will not say the man who attacked Martin’s daughter is the Fairmount Park rapist, who is responsible for a slate of sexual assaults and the murder of a young woman in the park system, the description of the attacker and the manner of the attack are strikingly similar.
“Someone knows him,” Martin said. “Someone knows who he is.”
Unfortunately, no one has come forward, which is why the FOW is going to hold the reward money for another year, hoping that someone might.
“Just because he wasn’t caught, doesn’t mean the campaign wasn’t effective,” Rush said, tipping her hat to the Martins for creating the fund. “He could have left the area because of this. We don’t know how many other victims there would have been.”
For now, the FOW will hold the funds and eventually, if it is not dispersed, it will be used to enhance safety in the park.
In the interim, Rush said there are many ways to increase safety and decrease risk – be aware of your surroundings and go with you gut. Rush said many people feel the same way Martin’s 17-year-old daughter did, they are afraid to offend someone they are suspicious of and forgo changing their course, seeking out someone else to simply say “I saw this guy and it doesn’t look right to me.”
“We are all in this together,” Rush said. “We gotta watch out for each other. We shouldn’t let them (criminals) to the park away from us.”
To donate to the Take Back the Wissahickon Fund, visit www.fow.org or make a check out to the Friends of the Wissahickon with “Take Back the Wissahickon” written in the memo line. Send to: Friends of the Wissahickon, 8708 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118.
To report information about the attacker, contact the Citizen’s Crime Commission Tipline at 215-546-TIPS or 215-546-8477.