Police in two east-metro cities are asking for the public's help in finding a man believed to have threatened to sexually assault two women at gunpoint Sunday night in separate incidents about 15 minutes apart.
The gunman, described as a 30- to 40-year-old male who wore a black ski mask, dark-colored pants and light-colored surgical type gloves, did not physically harm the women in the incidents, which took place in North St. Paul and Maplewood.
In each case, however, he got into their cars and threatened to rape them, authorities said Monday.
"The actions of this armed suspect are obviously dangerous, making his identification and arrest a top priority," Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell said Monday.
According to police:
The first incident occurred shortly after 7:45 p.m. Sunday when a 24-year-old woman started her car in the parking lot of Polar Arena in North St. Paul after a hockey game and was confronted by an armed man who got in on the passenger side next to her and said, "I want to have sex."
The man forced her to drive to a parking lot west of the high school baseball field and turn off the car. The suspect grabbed the victim, prompting her to flee and scream for help. The man sped away in her car, which was located late Monday morning behind the high school.
Police have released a photo taken by a video surveillance camera of the suspect walking near the rink. Police Capt. Dustin Nikituk said his department was hoping for a better image, but investigators are "trying to figure out" the lettering on the back of the man's hooded sweatshirt.
The second incident Sunday occurred about 15 minutes after the first and about 4 miles to the southeast in Maplewood.
A 26-year-old woman told police officers that she left LA Fitness near White Bear Avenue and County Road D about 8 p.m., when a man wearing a black ski mask got into her car next to her and threatened to shoot her if she tried to flee.
The man ordered the woman to drive to various spots in Maplewood. As they arrived at each location, the man "appeared to get nervous about being seen" and ordered her to drive elsewhere.
During the kidnapping, the man told the woman he intended to rape her.
As the woman talked with the man, he had her drive to County Road C and White Bear Avenue, where he got out of the car. He has not been spotted since.
"The woman really did a fabulous job convincing him that he was going to get in trouble and this wasn't going to end too well," Schnell said.
The chief said it's "difficult to apply a single standard" to cover all situations that victims find themselves in when it comes to challenging a dangerous person, but he said he endorses whatever "increases their likelihood of survival."
Meanwhile, an official with the Women's Hockey Association of Minnesota said Monday that the woman targeted in North St. Paul had just played in a game at Polar Arena when her car was hijacked.
An e-mail from association official Jenny Lenhart said that the gunman intended to force the woman to drive to a secluded area nearby "with the likely intentions of sexually assaulting her. … She miraculously was able to somehow flee on foot."
Lenhart implored players to keep each other safe by walking in pairs or groups to parked cars and to "be aware of your surroundings, lock your doors immediately once you're in your vehicle."
Maplewood and North St. Paul police are working on these cases together. Anyone with information about either incident is urged to call 911 or Maplewood police at 651-767-0640.