Deputies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office are conducting a manhunt Friday to catch a suspect wanted for a string of sexual assaults and home invasions that occurred Thursday night near the University of South Florida campus in Tampa.
USF has an emergency alert on the top of its website about the sexual assaults and home invasions.
“Investigations on series of home invasions north of campus continues,” reads the message, posted at 8:27 a.m. Friday. “Call 911 to report information.”
The university earlier cautioned students to avoid the area where the crimes occurred.
“An unsafe situation has been reported in the vicinity north of the USF TAMPA between Fletcher and Skipper and from 42nd Street to 46th Street. For your safety, please avoid the area,” the school said. “If you are in the immediate area, follow the directions of emergency personnel. Another message will be posted when updated information is available from the Division of Public Safety. Please check www.usf.edu for updates.”
The search for the suspect is being conducted Friday with canine units from the sheriff’s office and is centering around the Cambridge Woods Apartments, where the spree of assaults and home invasions began around 11 p.m. Thursday, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Authorities were confident they would catch the suspect, who was described as a black male between 20 and 30 years old, according to the Tampa Tribune.
"It's a very active situation, and we have a lot of assets out here … We're confident that with some of the good leads we have, we'll catch this individual," Larry McKinnon, a sheriff’s office spokesman, told My Fox Tampa Bay.
In the first home invasion, the suspect was believed to have bound four men and raped four women in the Cambridge Woods Apartments, My Fox Tampa Bay reported. The suspect then broke into a woman’s apartment in the Eagle’s Point complex and fled on foot; the woman wasn’t harmed in the home invasion. He then continued his spree by heading to a party in the Oaks Apartments, forced 25 partygoers into a bedroom and held them at gunpoint before firing a bullet into the carpet.
The suspect is also believed to be connected to a fourth incident that did not involve a home invasion or sexual assault, the Tampa television station reported. Authorities said the suspect encountered another person and fired three shots when the person tried to run away. The victim was not struck with any bullets.
The series of sexual assaults and home invasions near USF has prompted schools around the area to operate under modified lockdown, Hillsborough County Public Schools told the Tribune.
"We're adding security at some of the schools in the area," Hillsborough County School District spokesman Steve Hegarty told My Fox Tampa Bay.
Hegarty said the schools under modified lockdown are:
· Bowers Whitley
· Pizzo Elementary
· USF Patel
· Muller Elementary
· Witter Elementary
· Turner Elementary
· Bartels Middle
· Pride Elementary
· Clark Elementary
· Wharton High
· Heritage Elementary
· Benito Middle
· Hunters Green Elementary
· Liberty Middle
· Freedom High
· Chiles Elementary
· Tampa Palms Elementary