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On Aug. 28, Adams Morgan resident Victoria Williamson ran into a familiar man at the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW. She kept moving. He tracked her up Columbia, and she sought refuge in Safeway as he loitered outside on his bike.
The next week, Williamson was exiting her home when she heard a sound from behind. It was the same man, who came toward her and “was literally face to face with me,” she says. She called police, but they were dismissive of the incident.
“They said, ‘He hasn’t touched you.’ And I said, ‘Well he doesn’t have to touch me…he’s literally stalking me,’” recalls Williamson.
Williamson got acquainted with her pursuer at the Walter Pierce playground, located on Adams Mill Road just north of the 18th Street strip. Her early encounters with the man had been troubling enough for her to post a message on dcurbanmom.com with the subject line “ALERT—STALKER IN WALTER PIERCE PARK.”.
“For several weeks now, I have noticed a man lingering around the children at Walter Pierce park playground,” Williamson began. The day before, the lurker had fixated on a 3-year-old boy, who was running around while his caretaker watched his sibling, she wrote. Then, earlier that day, the man had tried to follow home Williamson and her 15-month-old daughter.
“I am in the process of giving the police all the appropriate information,” she concluded her post.
Now, more than a month later, most of the Walter Pierce parents and nannies have seen the so-called “creepy guy” or heard the playground gossip about him. Around the corner at Kalorama Park on Columbia Road, people also have been looking over their shoulders.
The man’s description is well-known: dark skin, Hispanic-looking, 5-foot-7ish, likes to follow women and eye toddlers in the park, with a possible “proclivity for light-haired boys,” as Adams Morgan mother Megan Gray puts it.
Since August, he’s been spotted hovering on his bike near the playgrounds or pacing up and down by the wrought-iron fence that runs along the Walter Pierce jungle gyms. And residents have acted. One man snapped a grainy cell phone shot. Another guy attempted to take justice in his own hands and confronted the lurker. Turns out, though, he had the wrong man, who understood and didn’t make a fuss, says Sgt. John Aceto of the D.C. police department.
Several women have fought back the civilized, old-fashioned way: They’ve calmly phoned the cops. The police came and left (or, in some cases, didn’t come at all), and as far as anyone knows, the lurker remains at-large.
Call it the creepy-guy conundrum, but police say there’s not much they can do. Or, as Gray, who’s also a lawyer, grants: “It’s not a crime to be a weird-looking guy staring at little boys. That’s not an arrestable offense.”
Yet the menace extends beyond glares. In September, preschool teacher Milagro Posada was sitting in the playground when the man, standing directly behind her, picked up his bicycle and acted as if he was about to heave it in her direction. Posada’s co-worker screamed, “and she moved, thank God,” says Amanda DeGalvez, head teacher at Spanish Education Development Center, a preschool right next to Walter Pierce.
Despite the traumatic run-in, Posada finds herself sympathizing with the man. One time, she even went to McDonald’s to buy him some food.
If the guy wasn’t Hispanic, people probably wouldn’t be so riled up, she says.
She’s not the only one who feels that way. Clara Jarquin lives across the street from the park and watched the man coming and going down Ontario Place “every day for a while.” She thinks the guy’s nutty but ultimately pretty harmless, certainly not cause for the dramatic gathering of the Walter Pierce moms, circling around two cops after the man had been in the park one day.
Sonia Baez, an officer with the Latino Liaison Unit at the corner of 18th and Columbia, recalls an incident with the man several years ago. His mother had called police because he was off his medication, without which he “can’t function,” Baez believes. (She didn’t know what medication he was on.)
The man was eventually taken to the emergency psychiatric division of D.C. General Hospital. Baez recently responded to a complaint in Walter Pierce, talked to the man, got his name, and checked his criminal record. It was clean, she says. The man left the park, walking eastward down Columbia Road.
“We didn’t think he was homeless; he was clean,” she says. “He doesn’t smell, and I got close to him.”
She declined to provide the man’s name because “he also has rights,” she says.
So where does that leave Adams Morgan parents? Well, relatively stalker-free, actually.
“I come to this park three times a day, twice at least,” said mother Jane in early October (she did not want her last name used for this story). She said she hadn’t seen him for three weeks. And Aceto says he hasn’t received any calls about the lurker recently.
Maybe he’s moved on?
On Monday, Oct. 8, Adams Morgan advisory neighborhood commissioner Bryan Weaver spotted him boarding the Metro in Silver Spring, heading south on the Red Line.