Ijams visitors feel safe on trails, despite 2013 assault

Ijams visitors feel safe on trails, despite 2013 assault

Posted:
Trails at the nature center were crowded Thursday as people took advantage of the beautiful weather. Trails at the nature center were crowded Thursday as people took advantage of the beautiful weather.
Knoxville police say it was the only sexual assault ever reported at Ijams. Knoxville police say it was the only sexual assault ever reported at Ijams.
The Knoxville Police Department wants to stress that last year's assault was an isolated incident and officers continue to perform routine patrols in the area. The Knoxville Police Department wants to stress that last year's assault was an isolated incident and officers continue to perform routine patrols in the area.
By SHELBY MILLER
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - It's been a year since a young mother says she was sexually assaulted while walking a trail at Ijams Nature Center with her daughter.

Since then, Knoxville police have worked hard to try to track the suspect down, but haven't had any luck.

Previous story: Woman sexually assaulted at Ijams Nature Center, suspect search underway

Trails at the nature center were crowded Thursday as people took advantage of the beautiful weather.

While many say safety is always on the back of their minds, they say it's not something they really worry about at Ijams, despite the 2013 assault.

Walking along the trails of Ijams Nature Center, Laila Sherrod and her group of friends enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature without worrying about their safety.

"I think that just anywhere in this day and age it can be dangerous, especially when you're back in the woods for a mom and a young child to be along, so we just stick together, but we feel safe all together," Sherrod said.

The walk is a Thursday tradition the women have done for more than a year. Sherrod says she remembers hearing about the sexual assault reported last August. That's when police say a young woman was walking the trails with her 2-year-old daughter, when a man cut open her shirt with a knife.

Following the attack, Sherrod says she and her friends walked with extra caution, but never felt too concerned.

"We had a few stay-at-home dads come with us and walk with us, kind of as our protectors, but they fizzled out after a while because we felt safe and we felt comfortable," she said.

Knoxville police say it was the only sexual assault ever reported at Ijams.

"We have moved forward positively. We still feel sad and sympathetic for the lady who was here, but visitation has increased and we have more eyes and ears on these trails in natural areas," said Ijams Executive Director Paul James.

James says, over the past year, they've seen more visitors at Ijams than ever before.

He said plenty of people walk, hike and bike the trails alone, but understands why some feel more comfortable outdoors with others.

"Come and look on the Ijams calendar for group activities where you can come and feel safer with other people," James said.

The Knoxville Police Department wants to stress that last year's assault was an isolated incident and officers continue to perform routine patrols in the area.

They say it's a good idea to always bring your cell phone with you and pepper spray, if it makes you feel more comfortable. They also say, if you're going out along, let a friend or family member know ahead of time. 

If you have any information on the sexual assault, which happened August 14, 2013, call the Knoxville Police Department at (865) 215-7212.

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