WALTERBORO — Franklin Smalls was picking up his newspaper from his front yard Sunday morning when he heard someone crying.
He noticed a woman walking down a nearby street. 'She was saying, ‘Help me. Mister, help me.' '
As she came closer, Smalls realized the woman was naked, holding her shoes. She recognized Smalls, a city councilman, and told him she had been raped. His wife immediately got her a nightgown while he called police.
Walterboro police say a man introduced himself to the 62-year-old woman as she was walking to visit her husband at a nursing home about 8 a.m.
The victim told police she was walking a path from North Lemacks Street to Sweat Street when a man approached her from behind and startled her. He held out his hand and identified himself as 'Thomas,' according to an incident report released Monday.
The suspect grabbed her hand, covered her mouth with his other hand and forced her into the woods, where he removed her clothes and sexually assaulted her, according to the report. The suspect then grabbed her clothes and ran deeper into the woods.
Her clothes were recovered near the site of the crime, according to the report.
The victim was treated at a local hospital and released, police said.
The suspect is described as a black man in his 30s or 40s with a dark complexion, facial hair and a medium-length haircut. He wore black pants and a gray or blue T-shirt.
The attack comes on the heels of multiple shootings in the city over the past year, including a gang-related drive-by shooting last year that left three people dead. Smalls, a councilman for 20 years, said these types of crimes can happen anywhere.
'Walterboro is still a safe place,' he said. 'When I consider all the things happening in other places, Walterboro is still a safe place to visit, a safe place to live.'
He said the city has acknowledged and addressed some of the problems it's had. Earlier this year, state agents rounded up several gang members allegedly connected to the drive-by shooting on Gerideau Street.
'I think we handle it pretty good,' he said.
Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to call the police department at 549-1811 or Crime Stoppers at 554-1111.