Facebook message leads to warrant in years-old rape claim
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — While she pleaded for prosecutors to take up her college rape complaint, Shannon Keeler studied in Spain, won a national championship in lacrosse, earned a bachelor’s degree and fell in love.
All the while, she gathered evidence from the freshman year attack and passed it on to investigators. Here are the names of people who saw the upperclassman stalk me at the frat party in 2013. Here’s the phone number of the friend who saw him follow me home. Here’s the name of the hospital where my coach took me for a rape kit.
And then, just last year: Here’s a recent message from his Facebook account that says, “So I raped you.”
After verifying the account, and after Keeler told her story to The Associated Press, a new team of police and prosecutors on Tuesday obtained an arrest warrant, charging Ian Cleary, 28, of Saratoga, California, with sexually assaulting Keeler when they were students at Gettysburg College in 2013. Police say they had not yet located him, and aren’t sure where he is. So it’s still not clear whether Keeler will see the case go to trial.
“While I am moved to tears by this result, which I have waited for (for) over seven years, I am mindful that this moment came because I went public with my story, which no survivor should have to do in order to obtain justice,” Keeler, now 26, said in a statement issued through her lawyer.
Keeler had discussed her experience in the AP story that detailed the frequent reluctance among prosecutors to file charges in campus rape cases. Authorities had told Keeler it was difficult to prosecute cases when the victim had been drinking, she said. The rape kit was later lost or destroyed.
The affidavit filed along with the warrant accuses Cleary, then a junior and a goalie on the ice hockey team, of following Keeler home from the party, sneaking into her room and sexually assaulting her. Keeler did not even know his name. As he apologized and fled, Keeler texted friends on campus “OMG please Help me,” the documents said.
The Gettysburg Police Department had reopened the case last year after Keeler showed them a flurry of messages that appeared to come from Cleary’s Facebook account. Police got a search warrant for the account, and matched it to Cleary through the cellphone number, according to the affidavit. Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett, whose office had filed few rape cases involving adult victims since 2013, supported the charges.
Washington lawyer Laura Dunn, who represents Keeler, said she hopes the case inspires authorities to be more responsive to sex assault victims. She wonders what’s next.
“Are we going to be able to find him? Are we going to be able to have an arrest? Is there going to be a plea deal or successful prosecution?” she said. “I remain hopeful, but I do have a serious concern with the fact that he has not yet been arrested, not yet been located.”
A cellphone linked to Cleary rang unanswered Tuesday and did not have voice mail. Messages left at phone numbers associated with his father in California and his mother in Maryland were not immediately returned.
The AP previously did not name Cleary because he had not been charged, and had not been able to reach him for comment. Now that the arrest warrant has been issued, The AP is using his name.
The alleged assault occurred on the final night of Keeler’s first semester at Gettysburg, when few students were still on campus. Victim advocates say that campus sexual assaults frequently occur during a student’s first year, when they are perhaps most vulnerable.
Keeler had stayed an extra day because a snowstorm had delayed her last exam until that Saturday. Cleary never returned to campus after that semester, ending the school’s Title IX investigation, she said. He appears to have later graduated from a university in northern California.
Keeler always felt she had a strong case. The witnesses include a friend who escorted her home from the party to keep her safe — and says Cleary followed them and offered $20 to leave him alone with Keeler.
“It has bothered me over the years that I was never able to do anything,” Keeler told the AP this spring. “If you’re not going to help me, who are you going to help? Because I do have evidence.”
Only one in five college sex assault victims report to police. And when they do, experts say, prosecutors often hesitate to take cases where victims had been drinking or knew the accused.
Cleary appears to have lived in Europe in recent years. The efforts to locate him could stretch across the country and overseas, officials said.
Follow Maryclaire Dale on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Maryclairedale
___ AP National Writer Allen G. Breed contributed to this report from Wake Forest, North Carolina.