Capt. John Redmond of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office remembers the fear.
Redmond worked early morning shifts as a deputy sheriff in 1990, when Danny Rolling ravaged Gainesville. He guarded the gruesome crime scenes of five different students, murdered and mutilated by Rolling’s hands.
When Redmond walked into homes, he’d see pistols and baseball bats around.
“You’d go to answer a call and knock on someone’s door,” Redmond said, “and the guy behind the door would have a shotgun.”
After the first few days of Rolling’s attacks, classes were canceled. Campus was a ghost town, he said.
“Even after they resumed,” Redmond said, “no one came back.”
Rolling later admitted to killing eight people and was put to death by lethal injection in 2006. But 24 years after the attacks, police are searching for a new predator.
Since Aug. 30, four assaults have occurred both on and near campus. Each victim gave a similar suspect description: a white man at least 6 feet tall with a large build and dark hair.
Though the recent attacks are not similar to those in the past, the fear is familiar.
Pepper spray and rape whistles are sold out throughout town. Self-defense classes are filling up.
But with more than 100 Safe Walk student volunteers guiding students home each night since Monday, Redmond said the reactions seem positive.
“Students are being proactive instead of retreating into their homes,” he said.
Social media is also being used to share information about the recent assaults and images of the possible suspect, Redmond said. He thinks it could help catch the man.
“Back then, all we had was print and TV,” he said.
Redmond said he repeatedly tells his daughter, a UF student, to walk home with friends or call the Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol or UPD if it’s late at night.
“You can’t let it stop you from doing what you need to do,” he said.
SNAP vans have doubled, and UPD has pledged to escort students throughout campus.
Ally Colangelo, an 18-year-old UF political science freshman, said she used to walk home from the library without being scared on late summer nights. But now she’s terrified.
“I find myself being really cautious about everyone I see when I’m walking around,” Colangelo said.
Colangelo said her mom is worried, too. As she was doing laundry Tuesday night in Broward Hall at about 11 p.m., her mom asked Colangelo to text her every 15 minutes or she would notify the police.
Nicole Giaquinto, a 20-year-old UF public relations junior, said it’s hard for her to feel safe on campus. She’s frustrated she can’t go to the gym or for a run without worrying about her well-being. But there’s a positive to every negative, she said.
“The good thing is that girls are realizing that they have to be more aware,” Giaquinto said.
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 9/11/2014 under the headline "Climate of fear in Gainesville reminiscent of 1990 Rolling murders"]
Ribbons placed in remembrance of the victims of serial killer Danny Rolling blow in the breeze on Southwest 34th Street on Thursday. Rolling murdered five students in Gainesville in late August 1990.