CEDAR RAPIDS — April Mead went for a walk Friday afternoon on the Prairie Park Trail, like she has done dozens of times, never expecting her pleasant afternoon stroll would end with her calling 911 and hiding in a ditch.
It a little after 5 p.m. when Mead parked her car at the Prairie Park Fishery off Otis Road SE, she said. Her plan was to walk about halfway around the lake and turn around.
“It’s a 1.8-mile loop around the lake, and walking that can take about 45 minutes to an hour,” she said. “Since the sun was going to set around 6:15, I decided I would just do an out-and-back walk so I could be back at my car before dark.”
This walk isn’t unfamiliar to Mead. The 46-year-old Cedar Rapids resident said she’s walked that trail “many times” and it’s not unusual for her to walk alone.
The first stretch of her walk went smoothly, but at the halfway point, that changed.
“I was nearing the connector trail, which connects to the Sac and Fox Trail, when I saw four teenage boys — three on bicycles and one on foot — coming off the connector trail and onto the trail I was on.”
From that point, Mead said the boys played a “cat and mouse game” with her. They’d follow her, then race ahead of her, then come back and follow her some more, all while calling her names and yelling “stupid things” at her, she said.
“They never touched me,” Mead said, “but they never got tired of yelling stupid things at me.”
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But at some point, she said, the rhetoric shifted. The boys began threatening her, saying they were going to sexually assault her, and Mead began to fear for her safety.
“All I wanted to do was get to safety,” she said.
Mead pulled out her phone and dialed 911, and the boys took off.
“The phone scared them,” she said. “I think they thought I was going to take their picture, and they sped over and incline and out of my line of sight. I felt relief. I thought it was over and that they were gone.”
But they weren’t. Mead said one of the boys reappeared and began yelling at her again. When he turned away and called to his friends, Mead said she made a split-second decision.
“I jumped off the trail and slid down a steep embankment and hid,” she said. “I tried to make myself as small and quiet as I could, and hoped they’d go away.”
The boys hung around and called for her, Mead said, but eventually police arrived and she felt safe to come out of hiding. By that time, the boys were long gone, she said.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department confirmed officers responded to the Prairie Park Trail about 5:15 p.m. and said officers are investigating the incident.
But for Mead, what happened on that trail speaks to a larger issue — one brought to light with the deaths of Mollie Tibbetts and Celia Barquin Arozamena.
Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, vanished in July while jogging in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, and was found dead more than a month later. Barquin Arozamena, a 22-year-old Iowa State University student and champion golfer, was stabbed to death in September while playing golf at a public course in Ames.
“Women shouldn’t have to feel afraid to go for a walk or a run,” she said.
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Since sharing her story on social media, Mead said she’s received dozens of messages from other women recounting their own experiences.
“On the one hand it was comforting to hear form other women and know I was not alone,” she said. “But at the same time, it makes me angry that we have to endure this kind of harassment, when all we’re trying to do is spend some time outside and get some exercise.”
That’s why Mead has organized what she calls a “solidarity walk.” Walkers, runners, people of all abilities, are invited to meet at 5 p.m. on Friday at Prairie Park Fishery, she said, and at about 5:10 p.m. they’ll walk the loop around the lake.
“Everyone is welcome,” she said. “I just wanted to do something where the community can come together, show support for one another and spend some time enjoying being outside together."
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