By Jean Lotus
Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley praised two female victims who fought back against an attacker, Friday -- even though the offender claimed he was carrying a gun. Police said quick thinking by the two Oak Park women led to the man's arrest.
Oak Park police arrested a 27-year-old Richard E. Harris for attacking two women and sexually fondling a small child in attempted robberies.
Police said Harris allegedly approached a 43-year-old Oak Park woman in the 300 block of North Euclid around 2:35 p.m. and "attempted to engage her in conversation." He then allegedly told her he had a gun, pushed her to the ground, struck her and took her cell phone by force.
The first victim contacted Wednesday Journal to clarify the nature of the attacks.
"His intention was to rape me," the victim wrote in an email. "[The offender] choked me and tried to get me in a secluded location. I fought back for that. If he just wanted my cell phone, I would have handed it over. I offered him my wedding rings and he threw them on the ground. He decided to take my phone after he could hear my aunt on the other end yelling that she was calling the cops. I'm writing because I don't think every situation is worth a fight, but this one was," she wrote.
Police said after the victim fought back, Harris fled on foot.
Around 20 minutes later, at 2:55 p.m., Harris allegedly approached a 41-year-old woman and her young child in the alley behind the 200 block of South Elmwood Avenue. He allegedly greeted the mother, announced he had a gun, then picked up the child and began to sexually fondle the child. He then allegedly put the child down and knocked the mother to the ground. The victim also fought back, police said.
"Fighting back can be risky, but sometimes it is necessary in situations such as these," said Tanksley in a statement. "By standing up to their attacker both vocally and physically, these brave women were able to escape a very bad situation and alert police."
No weapon was displayed or found, police said.
Police Saturday charged Harris, of the 3000 block of West Lexington Avenue with robbery, aggravated battery, unlawful restraint and aggravated criminal sexual abuse.
Harris is being held in Oak Park pending a bond hearing in Cook County Circuit Court.
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