AUSTIN (KXAN) - Thousands of University of Texas at Austin students returned to class Tuesday after the winter break only to find out about a series of attacks in the north campus area that claimed the life of a 29-year-old woman on New Year's Day .
Esme Barrera, 29, was found dead inside of her King Street rental home at 2:49 a.m. New Year's Day. Thirty-one minutes before, a 21-year-woman walking home called police after she said a man assaulted her. At 5 a.m., another woman on the same block said she awoke to a man standing over her bed. When that woman screamed, the suspect fled.
Police are not sure if all the crimes are connected but have released a sketch of a person of interest . The description given by the first assault victim who spoke exclusively to KXAN was used to create the sketch.
On Jan. 2, the UT police department sent out a campus-wide alert to all faculty, staff and students regarding the homicide and attacks.
The following email was sent out with an urgent marked in the subject line:
"Subject: Urgent: Murder and assaults in area north of campus
In the early morning hours of January 1, 2012, three women were separately attacked in the area of W. 31st and King Street (north of our campus); one of them murdered. The victims in the attack describe the suspect as a black male, aged 30 to 40, approximately six feet tall with a muscular build. He has large dark brown eyes and was last seen wearing a grey hooded jacket over a dark colored t-shirt and blue jeans.
A composite is available at http://www.utexas.edu/police/
APD and UTPD ask that anyone with information about the identity of the suspect in the composite or about any of the three incidents call the Homicide Tip Line at 477-3588 or Crimestoppers at 472-TIPS ."
Jessica Sisavath said she received the email but did not read it. But she could not recall when she got it or what it said.
"When did the alert come out?" asked Sisavath. "Was it around New Year's because I might have been busy."
Sisavath believes she just glanced at the email but did not take it that seriously.
"UT sends alerts all the time assaults like watch out for this guy," she said.
Her unfamiliarity of the series of attacks was common on campus Tuesday.
Junior Omolewa Akinyode said she didn't read the alert but found out about it from her roommate who did read it. Akinyode does read text alerts but she said she did not receive a text alert about the assault or homicide.
"I pay more attention to stuff during the school year, but maybe it was because I was on break that I didn't want to hear from UT on break," said Akinyode.
Students, however, also had the opportunity to read about the series of attacks in Campus Watch emails . According to UTPD spokesperson Rhonda Weldon, the alert has been in every email sent out since Jan. 2.
Junior Maya Gaster said those emails ended up in her spam email box, but she knew of the attack.
Gaster lives in Hyde Park just a few blocks from where Barrera was killed. She saw fliers posted up with the sketch of the person of interest in the case.
Gaster said she feels safe on campus and believes UT did enough to warn students.
"I can't imagine what they could possibly do to talk to the masses here," Gaster said. "It is up to the students to read those things."
The assaults also did not take place on campus and the cases are being handled by Austin Police Department.
"I feel safe on campus," Gaster added.
"They do enough (to protect students). They do have a lot of things, especially as a freshman, they tell you all the things they have to keep you safe," Akinyode said.
Still, Gaster is changing up her routine and not walking at night or with her headphones on.
In addition, some men are taking a protective stance when it comes to female friends.
"With my lady friends, I will watch them more and if we hang out at night, make sure they get home safely," said Martin Sanchez.
But, there are those considering carrying a pepper spray or self-defense equipment.
"I might start carrying Mace or a pocket knife or maybe a stick that you use to jab into their eye," Sisavath said.
Campus police intend to send out a safety email later this week, according to Weldon, but that email will just address general safety.
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