BELLINGHAM, Wash.-- It's finals week at Western Washington University, but passing exams is not the only thing on the minds of female students here. A serial peeping tom" is on the loose. He's striking at night-- and it gets dark early this time of year this far north. Sunset was at 4:14 p.m. Tuesday.
"It's kinda creepy walking," says Megan Dougherty, a UWW student who lives in the middle of the area where the Bellingham man has been spying into windows, sometimes knocking on them and then exposing himself. "The other night it was foggy and I was a little scared."
She says she often has one of her male friends walk her home if it's late. "I just hope it's one person," she says.
But authorities think there's more than one suspect that's been bothering the eight- to 10-square-block area between campus and downtown for months. Almost 20 incidents since July. The most recent incident was last Friday and this suspect is described as a white man with brown hair, slender build and in his 20s or early 30s.
"It shouldn't be that hard to catch a guy who's running around half naked all the time," says Kelsea Kilbride, one of about 30 students that are active in the "Green Coats" -- a campus escort program that's been seeing an uptick in requests for walking buddies recently. "Whoever it is just keeps sneaking past everybody."
Kilbride says the mood on campus isn't one of fear-- but more one of frustration. "I just feel like everyone is sort of frustrated and annoyed. And we think is gross and stupid."
And while some students think of these incidents as a joke, police do not think of this as a laughing matter.
"It's definitely cause for concern," says Detective Sgt. Claudia Murphy.
She says they're concerned these incidents could get worse because the whatever thrill the peeping tom is getting from his actions could end up pushing him to go further with his behaviors. Murphy says she the incidents could get more physical or even violent. "The psychology of it, that's really difficult to get into. Yes, there is a chance that people like this can escalate."
Murphy says most of the incidents happened between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. She says the best course of action for folks is to be aware of their surroundings.
"Be very vigilant," says the detective. "Don’t be buried in your cellphone, walk with your head up, eyes open and your head on a swivel."
Murphy says her department is working closely with the uniformed officers on the Western Washington campus as well.
Murphy says the best course of action for folks in the neighborhoods being targeted is to keep your blinds closed at night, windows shut and to have as many outside lights on as possible to increase neighborhood visibility. She also stresses that people should not confront the peeper, but rather call 9-1-1.
"It is serious business," says Murphy. "Cause that’s the thing you never know what kind of behavior they’re going to exhibit when you surprise them or when you threaten them with calling 9-1-1."