PROVO — A man who has groped several women on and around the BYU campus struck two more times Wednesday, according to police.
In addition, a third woman stepped forward to report that she had also been groped, bringing the total number of incidents to 11 since Jan. 23, said Brigham Young University Police Lt. Arnold Lemmon.
Detectives were working Wednesday to determine whether the same man is responsible for each incident.
"There's some commonality through all of this. We think it may be the same guy, but we may have a copycat in the middle of it," Lemmon said.
What also has authorities concerned is the apparent increase in the severity and frequency of the gropings. Recently, the groper attacked a woman who was walking with a friend, whereas, in prior incidents, he only targeted women walking alone.
"So that tells us there's a little bit of an escalation there," the lieutenant said.
About 3 a.m. Tuesday, a man entered an apartment at the Wyview Park Student Family Housing, 150 E. Bulldog Blvd. (1230 North), on campus. A woman who got up after hearing the door open was confronted by the man in the apartment hallway.
The suspect in the groping cases remains unknown, but that doesn't mean detectives aren't able to learn about him based on his actions and patterns.
Juan Becerra is a retired FBI special agent and a liaison to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime — the official name for the Bureau's profiler unit.
He described the suspect police are looking for as a "thrill- seeker," who is not likely to stop until he is caught.
Though the action of groping may seem overtly sexual, Becerra said the suspect's actions are likely NOT about sex.
"They're more about power," Becerra said. "Power and authority, the ability to manipulate and to have power over a certain situation."
Becerra said the suspect may have rationalized his behavior to the point he believes what he is doing is okay.
"To them, this is a normal behavior or an accepted behavior in their own mind," Becerra continued. "That doesn't mean we accept it in society."
Investigators with a profiler's skill set look at evidence, behavior and trends that could ultimately help pinpoint an at-large criminal.
Becerra said in this case, he believes the suspect's apparent, repeated targeting of the BYU campus is telling.
Police said as many as 11 total cases could be tied to the same man since Jan. 23, though they acknowledged the possibility of a copycat's responsibility for some of the acts.
"That means that that person is familiar with the area," Becerra said, suggesting the suspect may have even spent years at BYU. "This person is very familiar with their surroundings and feels comfortable moving in and out of areas very comfortably and without any type of detection."
Becerra said though the escalating pattern of behavior is concerning, he did not believe the groper was likely to escalate into a rapist anytime soon.
He acknowledged if the suspect is left unchecked, his behavior could grow even more "perverted" over time.
Becerra also offered his advice to the next potential victims, whoever they are – including pushing the man away, maintaining distance and trying to quickly take as good a mental picture as possible.
"You're looking for height, weight, scars, marks, tattoos," he said.
Becerra said he believes making a disruptive, loud noise – perhaps with something like a rape whistle -- may likely be enough for now to get the man to cut his attack short.
"That drawing attention or that loud noise is going to immediately throw them out of their comfort zone," Becerra explained. "The power has now been withdrawn, and then that individual is going to be running."
"He grabbed her, fondled her. In the course of doing that, she screamed. Her roommate came out, and the perpetrator fled.
"If (Wednesday's incidents were committed by) the same guy who did the apartment, that takes it up a whole new level of severity. I don't think it's a dare thing or a guy who thinks he's funny. I think it's a guy who's doing it for sexual gratification," Lemmon said.
The gropings started on Jan. 23 with two incidents within 2 1/2 hours of each other near Helaman Halls and Heritage Halls. In those incidents, the man swatted or grabbed the buttocks of two women, according to police.
That action escalated to breast groping by the next reported incident on Feb. 19 near the Bell Tower, according to police. Six women have reported being groped since March 3.
On Wednesday, a woman walking near Heritage Halls was groped about 7:45 a.m. That incident was recorded on a nearby security camera, police said. While police were investigating that report, another woman came up to the officer and said she, too, had been a victim earlier.
About two hours later, at 9:45 a.m., another woman walking through a parking lot east of LaVell Edwards Stadium was groped.
"All of these women are walking. The perpetrator, he either runs by and gropes them, or he is just standing kind of in a casual stance, and as the victim walks by him, he reaches out and fondles her," Lemmon said. "He doesn't even break stride. He just runs by, grabs them, and keeps on going."
Lemmon said each groping incident lasts only a "millisecond" and the suspect doesn't say a word.
"Two victims said he looked back at them and kind of sneered. They both felt it was to see what kind of reaction they would have when he grabbed them," he said.
But if the same man is responsible for all the incidents, he faces potential misdemeanor charges for sexual harassment and potential felony charges for breaking into an apartment, Lemmon said.
"The fact that all of these cases are coming up, it's pretty shocking, a little bit scary too," said BYU student Alissa Gibbons.
"We made sure the door is locked all the time, and that sort of thing, because it's scary there's someone like that walking around campus," said Marta Houghton, also a BYU student.
Until Wednesday's morning attacks, all the previous incidents had occurred at night or in the late afternoon. Most of the attacks occurred near Heritage Halls and Helaman Halls.
Police say they are looking for a white man in his early 20s who is about 5 feet 6 or 7 inches tall, weighs about 150 pounds, is clean-shaven and has spiky blond hair. Although he wears different clothes each time, he has been seen wearing a black hoodie and stone-washed blue jeans, or in another case a black knit hat, gray sweatshirt and white gloves.
Anyone with information is asked to call BYU police at 801-422-2222.