Too Close for Comfort

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE- Ill. -- During the June drill, we will conduct our annual Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) training. In the past, we've been trained on bystander intervention and prevention. This time, the focus will be on identifying the offender. In my training, I'll discuss how certain environments can allow offenders to hide in plain sight. Because our focus is on the offender this year, I'd like to tell you a story about a rapist who hid in plain sight for more than 13 years. This story will tell you how the SAPR program personally resonates with me and how the power of knowledge and training is essential to help protect you and those we love.

Detective Randy Comeaux was considered a "top notch" member of the Lafayette, Louisiana Parish Sheriff's office for nearly 20 years. He was known by his colleagues as an outstanding investigator and a "really nice guy." Lafayette, Louisiana is the heart of Cajun country with typical southern friendliness and a very close community. When Comeaux was arrested in 1999 for the rape of more than 7 women over a 13 year span, Lafayette was stunned. Comeaux randomly chose his victims, broke into their homes and sexually assaulted them by gunpoint. In 1999, someone called in an anonymous tip about the serial "South Side Rapist" being on the Sheriff's department. Comeaux was soon after identified through a composite sketch and finally caught through a DNA match. Comeaux is now in prison for life.

Lafayette, Louisiana is home for me. When Comeaux was arrested in 1999, I was in my 20s, lived by myself, attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana and bartended at a quaint lounge at popular hotel chain. On Friday and Saturday nights, the Lafayette Sheriff Department officers patrolled our hotel and walked employees to their car after late shifts. Sheriffs on duty would often come into my lounge to pass the hours and visit. During the four years I worked at the hotel, I visited with Comeaux many nights. I can't count the number of times he walked me to my car or offered me rides in his patrol car and offered to take me dancing after work (of which I would politely decline).

I am not one of Comeaux's victims, but I very well could have been. So how was I so lucky? When I knew Comeaux, he probably knew the police were onto him. On top of that, at the time, I owned an 80lb very protective German shepherd. Maybe that helped, maybe it didn't. My hotel didn't provide SAPR training and I don't recall any training in college. My friends and I weren't the least bit concerned with any of it. We were having fun, we were in college. Those things always happen to someone else, right? Did I see signs? Not at all, but I had no idea what to look for back then. I did, however, think something wasn't quite right with Comeaux. People at the hotel talked about how he made them feel uncomfortable. Some suspected he was calling the hotel at odd hours to harass some of the women. At the time of his arrest, he was actually engaged to a woman who worked at a rape crisis center. When he walked me to my car after work, he was much more thorough (borderline over the top) than the other officers....he used his flashlight to check my front seat, my back seat, in front of the car and behind. He ensured my doors were locked and waited until I drove away. The other Sheriffs would merely ensure I got to my car and drove off safely. Now that I understand more about sexual assault and tendencies of serial rapists, I realize he was possibly baiting me to see how far he could get - trying to build trust.

I will never forget Comeaux and how close I was to someone like him - it's frightening to say the least. Comeaux, like many rapists, was a repeat offender. He was cop, in a position of power and he took advantage of that. In my SAPR training in June, I'll talk about how certain environments allow people like Comeaux to hide in plain sight. The SAPR program is in place for a very good reason - to help victims of these types of crimes and to help educate us all on how to prevent and hopefully stop these things before they take place. Det. Randal Comeaux's gave me his business card years ago. He wanted me to call him when I was ready to go on that patrol ride. I keep it as a reminder of how close I was to danger.
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