Facebook Messages Lead to Sexual Assault Charge in 2013 Case

by Msnbctv news staff


A woman said she spent years trying to get the authorities to investigate a 2013 rape allegation, but a break in the case came only after she found a series of Facebook messages last year that had been sent to her by the man she said had attacked her.

“So I raped you,” one of the messages said.

The woman, Shannon Keeler, showed those messages to the authorities in Adams County, Pa., where she had been a student at Gettysburg College at the time of the reported attack. For Ms. Keeler, 26, the messages were just the latest in a series of leads that her lawyer said she had shared with investigators, including the names and accounts of witnesses.

On Wednesday, the Adams County district attorney, Brian R. Sinnett, said his office had obtained an arrest warrant for Ian Thomas Cleary, 28, of Saratoga, Calif., who he said had been charged with sexual assault.

Mr. Sinnett said that he would make no further statements until Mr. Cleary was taken into custody. “Efforts are being made to locate the defendant,” he said.

In a statement issued by the office of Ms. Keeler’s lawyer, Laura L. Dunn, Ms. Keeler said, “While I am moved to tears by this result, which I have waited for over seven years, I am mindful that this moment came because I went public with my story, which no survivor should have to do in order to obtain justice.” Through her lawyer, Ms. Keeler declined to comment further.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, Ms. Keeler reported a sexual assault to the Gettysburg Police Department on the night of Dec. 15, 2013, after she and some friends went to a party on the Gettysburg College campus to celebrate the end of finals.

Ms. Keeler told the police that Mr. Cleary, who was also a student at the college, had followed her and a friend from the party to her dorm room. The friend who escorted her home said that Mr. Cleary had offered $20 to leave him alone with Ms. Keeler. The friend told Mr. Cleary “to go away” and he did, the affidavit said.

About 10 minutes after her friend left, Ms. Keeler told the police, she heard a knock on her door and opened it without looking through the peephole, according to the affidavit. Mr. Cleary then walked into the apartment and began to kiss Ms. Keeler and then had sex with her without her consent, according to the affidavit.

Afterward, he apologized and fled, and Ms. Keeler texted her friend, “OMG please Help me,” the affidavit says.

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, Ms. Keeler said that the authorities had told her when she reported the assault that it was difficult to prosecute cases when the victim had been drinking. She also said that she learned last year that the rape kit from the police investigation was destroyed after the case was initially closed.

Gettysburg College ended its investigation after Mr. Cleary withdrew from the school, The A.P. reported. The college confirmed on Wednesday that Mr. Cleary was enrolled there from August 2011 until January 2014.

“It has bothered me over the years that I was never able to do anything,” Ms. Keeler told The A.P.

Then, in May 2020, Ms. Keeler discovered messages that Mr. Cleary had sent to her through Facebook in December 2019, according to the affidavit.

“I need to hear your voice,” one said. “I need to know if I did it or not.”

“So I raped you,” another message said.

“I’ll never do it to anyone ever again.”

Ms. Keeler showed the messages to the authorities, according to the affidavit and her lawyer.

The police obtained a search warrant for the Facebook account and matched it to Mr. Cleary through a cellphone number, according to the affidavit.

It was not immediately clear if Mr. Cleary had a lawyer. A voice mail message left with a cellphone associated with Mr. Cleary was not returned.

In a statement, Gettysburg College said it applauded “Shannon’s bravery and persistence to bring her story to light, and by doing so, shining a light on the challenges that exist for all victims of sexual assault in pursuing these cases criminally.”

Ms. Dunn thanked the Gettysburg police for following up on the Facebook messages.

“It is sadly rare for law enforcement to believe survivors and tenaciously take up their cases for investigation,” she said in the statement.

Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.



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