HERMITAGE — Two alleged attacks at Buhl Park might have been reported on social media, but they weren’t reported to local police.
The two incidents were posted to Facebook on Friday, with the first post describing an incident that allegedly happened around 8:30 p.m. Friday, when two women walking their dogs were approached by a man trying to start a conversation, according to a press release from the Hermitage Police Department.
When the women did not respond, the man followed them and appeared to be photographing the women from behind due to the way he held his cellphone. One of the women confronted the man, and he allegedly left in the opposite direction, police said.
Even though the post claimed the “proper authorities” were notified, Deputy Chief of Operations Adam Piccirillo said neither the Hermitage Police Department, the Buhl Park rangers, nor Mercer County 911 received any reports of the incident.
“If the rangers have a situation and they think it’s a police matter, they get a hold of us right away,” Piccirillo said. “But I checked with all three agencies and nothing was reported to any of them.”
The second incident, posted in response to the first incident, allegedly happened “approximately two months ago” when a woman claimed she was walking her dog at about 10:30 p.m. in the park. A man then approached her from behind, punched her in the face and hit her head off a picnic table, the release states.
According to the post, the woman fought back and escaped to her car, claiming to have suffered a concussion and a bruised forehead. Instead of contacting the authorities, the woman allegedly contacted her boyfriend to come to the park, although the man was gone by then.
Like the first post, Piccirillo said he also looked into the second post and also found no such incident was reported to the three agencies. In the case of Mercer County 911, a check as far back as the beginning of the year didn’t turn up the incident that allegedly happened about “two months ago.”
Even if the incidents were reported to another police department, such as Sharon or Sharpsville, the information would have been relayed to Hermitage. The rangers who patrol Buhl Park also have a very good relationship with the Hermitage Police Department, Piccirillo said.
“It seemed like a pretty serious incident as it was described in the second post for us not to get a call about it,” he said.
Since the two incidents weren’t reported to the authorities and have already taken place, Piccirillo said an investigation could not be conducted. But aside from the two incidents that were getting attention on social media, Piccirillo said there had not been any similar reports of attacks or strange individuals at the park.
“The only calls we’ve had recently were crowd-related due to Light Up the Sky, but otherwise that was it,” he said.
While there are rangers in the park, Buhl Park’s Interim Executive Director Linda Evans said Hermitage officers also patrol the park, even after hours. Officers from Sharon and Sharpsville also drive through when time permits, despite Buhl Park not being on either department’s regular patrol routes.
But if someone does see something happen or feels uncomfortable, they should call 911 and then the park rangers — which Evans said made the fact that neither of the two alleged incidents were reported both “a surprise” and “alarming.”
“It could be anything from a call about a dog to a car left in the park overnight, so my message to everyone is if something happens, tell someone,” Evans said. “We would have talked to these people or tried to help, but nobody has come to us or the police with a description.”
While the park rangers do carry call logs that are maintained continuously from one shift to the next, no such incidents were recorded. However, park officials are seeking any details that might be available and encourage people with information to call the park at 724-981-5522, Evans said.
“For something as serious as this to have supposedly happened and not be reported, it’s a little alarming,” she said.
Piccirillo encouraged anyone who sees possibly suspicious or criminal activity — regardless of how unimportant it might seem — to contact police instead of simply posting to social media.
But despite the buzz generated on Facebook due to the two alleged incidents, Piccirillo said Buhl Park is still safe for families to enjoy due to the efforts of the rangers, Hermitage police and “vigilant park goers,” especially during the upcoming July 4thy holiday.
“Buhl Park remains a consistently safe environment for adults and children to exercise and enjoy other recreation, hold and attend community events, or simply relax and enjoy the outdoors,” he said.
If someone does decide to walk in Buhl Park later in the evening, Evans said to walk with someone and to carry a flashlight, advice that was also recommended by Piccirillo, who added that walkers should bring a cell phone as well.