Flasher puts schools on edge

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2001

Soldotna High School Principal Sylvia Reynolds said she hopes police can catch a flasher who has appeared repeatedly around Soldotna schools before students start classes Wednesday.

"I don't want to start school on an ugly note like that," she said.

But until the flasher is caught, officials are advising students and parents to be cautious and alert around Soldotna High School, Soldotna Middle School and Redoubt Elementary School. Parents should be sure their children have specific means for getting to and from school, said Ken Meacham, principal at Redoubt Elementary.

"If they live in the area, pick them up from the school and drop them off at the school, and don't have them walking alone through the trees," he said.

Meacham said he has asked police to keep him informed. He said the school will take extra precautions if the flasher is still at large Wednesday, but he was not sure Friday what those would be. He said he will discuss security with his staff Monday, and teachers will raise the issue with parents during the school open house at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

School starts Wednesday. If the flasher is still at large, teachers likely will discuss the issue with students in their classrooms, he said.

There already have been changes at SoHi, where football, cross country and volleyball teams are practicing.

"I found out about it Tuesday. We made all of our coaches aware, because it was before the teachers were back," said Sean Dusek, assistant principal. "We make sure the coaches have their cell phones. We're not allowing students in the woods. ... I've been making a conscious effort to walk the halls. Also, my custodians have been making a conscious effort to watch who is coming in and out."

Dusek said police are beefing up patrols of the area, and students still can walk to school.

"But they might want to buddy up, or parents might want to come with them until police can resolve this issue," he said.

Soldotna Police Officer Shayne La Croix said the flasher has been seen on five separate days beginning July 29. On some days, there have been multiple incidents.

"He hangs out along the western tree line of the schools and waits for someone to look in his direction," La Croix said.

Then, the man drops his pants and makes graphic gestures.

"This is sexual," La Croix said.

The flasher's victims have been women and children, he said. Most sightings have been around noon, but one occurred at 3 p.m. The flasher generally has appeared on warm sunny days when people are out enjoying the weather.

He is described as a while male, possibly in his 20s or early 30s. Witnesses describe him as tall and thin, possibly balding, with a mustache and goatee and dark hair. He has been seen wearing dark clothes but was reported several times to be without a shirt. He has been seen wearing sunglasses and wearing various caps and bandanas.

"He hasn't made any moves toward anyone. He's in it for the shock value. We're concerned that it's not going to stay that way," La Croix said. "He's getting more aggressive -- hanging around longer, taking more chances of getting caught by police. ... He's getting a lot more brazen. He's doing it more often, and doing it to more than one person at a time."

Initially, the flasher exposed himself only to one person at a time, he said.

Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Warner said police are taking the flasher very seriously, since they do not know his intent. At least six Soldotna police officers are involved in the investigation, and troopers have helped search after sightings.

La Croix said police have responded to reports within three to five minutes, but the flasher usually has disappeared before they arrive.

"We had one officer spot him from across the football field, but when he saw the officer, he ran," La Croix said.

Fences and locked gates forced the officer to take the long way around the field, he said, and by the time he got around there, the flasher was gone.

Because the man vanishes so quickly, police speculate that he may live in the area.

Officers who responded to an Aug. 12 incident did locate a suspect matching the flasher's description. However, La Croix said, when the victim viewed a photo lineup, she picked that man as one of several who could not have been the flasher.

Kenai Police Lt. Jeff Kohler said a flasher Monday at Beaver Creek Park in Kenai could be the same flasher seen in Soldotna. The Beaver Creek flasher was described as a little less than 6 feet tall, neither heavy nor thin, in his 30s or 40s, and possibly balding or wearing a bandana.

"The general physical descriptors are similar. ... The behavior is similar," Kohler said.

Kenai police are working with Soldotna police, he said. He advised the public to consider the man dangerous and asked anyone with information about the man's identity should call police.

Warner said future victims can help by being good witnesses.

"For us, it would be nice if people could be encouraged to get a good look, because a lot of times, when people are confronted with something like this, they turn away," she said. "Keep an eye on what he looks like and his direction of travel."

La Croix asked citizens to report anyone who seems suspicious.

Soldotna police also are investigating a report that on Aug. 11 at about 9 p.m., a teen-age boy -- clothed, but matching the description of the flasher -- pointed a gun at a 10-year-old Soldotna girl on the SoHi track and told her to leave.

The girl left the track and did not report the incident to police until Aug. 12. She told La Croix she had not told her mother about it because she lies a lot, and she did not think her mother would believe her. Her playmate saw the boy from the opposite side of the track but did not observe the incident or see a gun. La Croix said he was not sure what to make of the report.

"We're taking it seriously. We're investigating," he said.

Meanwhile, police plan to approach the flasher as though he is armed, he said.

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