Two women jog Monday at Minto-Brown Island Park on a trail less than a mile south of the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
After a report surfaced Thursday of a man kidnapping and trying to rape a woman in Minto-Brown Island Park, some Salem residents took to social media to question how safe was their community.
“I thought I was safe here,” one woman wrote on Facebook in response to an article. “Where do I go now that I can’t walk in this beautiful, peaceful park?”
But police and others who frequent the park say this sort of incident is an anomaly.
“We really don’t have a lot of stranger-on-stranger crime,” said Salem Police Lt. Treven Upkes.
On Thursday at about 5 p.m., a 29-year-old woman was running just south of the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge when a man reportedly shoved her off the walking path and into the bushes, according to police records.
The woman tried to fight him off but the man continually pushed her down and tried to drag her further from the path by her wrists. She yelled for help and for the man to stop, according to a Salem Police Department affidavit.
The attacker pulled out a folding knife and told her to come with him. But the woman was able to eventually fight her way free and call police. She sustained scrapes from the attack, the affidavit said.
Police arrived and within minutes arrested 23-year-old David Belluno, who matched the victim’s description. According to a police report, Belluno had a knife on him.
According to a police report, Belluno admitted to approaching the victim, who he didn’t know, grabbing her wrists and trying to drag her in the bushes. He also said he pulled a knife on her and told her to come with him.
Belluno was charged with kidnapping, attempted rape and other felonies. Following his Friday afternoon arraignment, he is being held in the Marion County jail without bail.
A view of Minto-Brown Island Park on Monday facing south from the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge, near where the reported attack occurred . (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Upkes said it’s probably been a decade since a crime as serious as Thursday’s was committed in Minto-Brown. At least five years ago, he said, a man tried to drag a lady into the bushes at Riverfront Park, but an inmate work crew nearby immediately broke up the attack.
“It’s such a sad, sad thing, but I think all in all, I hope that people don’t suddenly think the park is unsafe,” said Tibby Larson, said of Thursday's attack.
Larson oversees a 40-person volunteer staff that patrols the park for the city. Each volunteer must spend at least eight hours a month in the park.
Pennii Norris, one of the park's volunteer patrol, said Monday she was surprised that it happened, brazenly, during daylight hours.
"Honestly I was shocked," the 61-year-old said. "It's when the park was fairly crowded."
Patrolling the park typically means picking up trash or debris, and keeping people on walking paths. In two years of patrolling, and coming to the park almost every other day, Norris said the most hostility she's witnessed is people getting upset to leash their dogs when away from the dog park.
"I don't want people to get a bad impression of Minto," she said. She added she's never called the police to the park. "I really think it was an isolated incident."
The volunteers write reports about what they see and turn them into Larson. Assaults are unheard of, Larson said.
“There has been nothing unusual lately,” she said. “Generally we don’t have any problems except homelessness and illegal camping.”
Over the past six months, Salem police logged 37 incidents at the park. While the park’s blotter does include oddities - such as a found prosthetic leg with a shoe attached – Thursday’s assault remains an outlier.
The six-month snapshot does include another assault, but it was between two men from a transient camp who knew each other, Upkes said.
Other than that, the records includes car break-ins, indecent exposure, graffiti and a dog making a weird noise. Upkes said his crime analyst said the six-month look is representative of complaints at the park.
Fear of another attack didn't seem to phase many of the walkers, joggers and bikers who spent Monday afternoon on the park's winding, and sometimes isolated paths.
Hans Amur, a 20-year-old Willamette University student. called the attack an outlier, but also cautioned people probably shouldn't be there at night.
Rah Walker, 19, and Vanessa King, 20, spent some time in Minto on Sunday after dark. Cougars concerned them the most, they said, but they missed the news of the attempted kidnapping.
"It's crazy people could be capable of doing that. Everybody we've met here has been nice and polite," Walker said.
Outside of volunteers, the city also has a ranger who patrols the parks, as well as a seven-officer downtown patrol team that regularly checks on the park. The department is also looking to get an off-road vehicle to bolster park enforcement.
“At any given time we have quite a few officers in that area,” Upkes said.
Upkes said increasing patrol of the park would be difficult. At 1,200 acres, it’s larger than New York City’s famed Central Park.
“At this point it looks like such a one-off that we wouldn’t change it, and we were there within a couple minutes,” he said.