Two of my friends had similar experiences recently on the Chattahoochee RiverWalk that have led them to the same conclusion.
Both women are avid joggers and regularly run on the RiverWalk by themselves. No more, both of them said Friday. They say they will continue to exercise on the popular trail that extends from north Columbus to Fort Benning, but they are less likely to do it alone.
The first incident happened on Monday, Jan. 30 at 2:20 in the afternoon. A woman was running on the path near Golden Park when she heard a runner come up from behind her. He passed her.
Like any good runner, she noticed one thing: “He was wearing good running shoes.”
He sat down on a bench along the path and she ran past him and continued to run. He then started running again and passed her.
“I thought that was odd,” she said.
Then the man disappeared. At that point, the woman, in the middle of her run, began to realize something wasn’t right. She was near the top of a small hill where there is a spur off the RiverWalk going toward the South Commons.
As she was trying to figure it out, she looked up and saw the man running at her, naked. She took off sprinting, pulled out her phone and called 911. She described the man as about 5-foot-10, about 200 pounds, clean cut and fit.
The woman’s husband has urged her not to run out of downtown on the RiverWalk alone. She figured she was fine because it was the middle of the afternoon.
“I won’t do it again,” she said. “I was lucky this time.”
Using that story as a backdrop, another runner said she encountered what she called “a creeper” along the RiverWalk during a run about 4 p.m. on Wednesday. She did not report the incident to police, but did do a Facebook live video telling of the encounter.
South of Bulldog Bait and Tackle just before reaching Bull Creek, the woman passed a man and knew something wasn’t right. She said can count on one hand the times she’s felt uncomfortable on the RiverWalk in more than two decades of running.
“I just got a really, really bad feeling,” she said. “... Something about this guy didn’t sit right. I had that overwhelming gut instinct that I was in danger ... and I was isolated.”
She described the guy as “clean cut.”
The woman decided to run back toward the bait and tackle store. She didn’t see the man, then suddenly he appeared coming up from a steep embankment toward her. She saw two women walking a dog and stopped to warn them, while the man was looking back at them from atop a hill.
“It is best not to be out on isolated parts of the RiverWalk by yourself,” the woman said on her Facebook video.
Columbus Police Maj. J.D. Hawk said those using the RiverWalk should always be aware of their surroundings and use caution.
“I don’t care if you are riding a bike on the RiverWalk, running or just walking out of the mall, always be looking around,” Hawk said.
Anytime there is an incident such as these, Hawk urges those threatened to call the police and file a report.
“If we have reports, we can look at trends and may find something,” Hawk said. “Be smart.”
That’s good advice.