The Robert Purcell Community Center, where a Cornell freshman is accused of sexually abusing two women on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018.

Ben Parker / Staff Photographer

The Robert Purcell Community Center, where a Cornell freshman is accused of sexually abusing two women on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018.

October 23, 2018

Near-Naked Cornell Runner Attacks 2 Women, Threatens to Rape Them After Taking ‘Acid,’ Witnesses and Police Say

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This article has been updated.

Police arrested a Cornell freshman Sunday afternoon after he attacked two women on North Campus while wearing only a green T-shirt and told them he was going to rape them, according to police and witnesses.

Saano E. Murembya ’22, of Okemos, Michigan, has pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of attempted sexual abuse and two misdemeanor counts of unlawful imprisonment. The 18-year-old runner on the cross country and track and field teams was released from jail after posting bail, which was set at $7,500 cash or $15,000 bond.

Saano Murembya '22

Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

Saano Murembya ’22

Murembya’s girlfriend said in a sworn statement to police that before the alleged attacks, he took the hallucinogen LSD in High Rise 5. After that, the girlfriend said, he “told me he wanted to rape me” and “at one point threw me to the floor.”

Police and witnesses say that when Murembya’s girlfriend and roommate could not calm him down, he left the residence hall and sexually abused two women near the Robert Purcell Community Center, telling them and bystanders that he wanted to rape them.

Witnesses and a victim described the attacks in graphic detail in statements that police filed in Ithaca City Court. The statements describe a scene shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday in which Murembya attacked one woman in RPCC and then chased two women at a bus stop outside, one of whom said he shoved her down and straddled her. The incident could have been worse had it not been for custodian Rogelio Gordon and Ian Moritz ’22, who forced Murembya to flee and then detained him, witnesses said.

When Murembya got to RPCC shortly after 4 p.m., he was still naked from the waist down, police and witnesses said. They said he grabbed a woman, pinned her down and tried to take her clothes off while yelling that he was going to rape her.

But when Gordon yelled for Murembya to leave the woman alone and pulled him off of her, the freshman runner “sprinted out of the door,” two other women told police.

The two women said they then left the building for a bus stop and saw Murembya trying to get into Jameson Hall. He repeatedly yelled for them to “come over,” they told police, and when they ignored him, he said, “Then I am coming over to you!” and ran toward the pair.

“We are shocked and terrified and stunned,” one of the freshmen told police. The two women ran away, holding onto each other, and tried to hide behind a tree. Murembya grabbed the hair and jacket hood of one of the freshmen and threatened to rape her, she told police.

Murembya then tackled her from behind and straddled her, both of the freshmen told police. Witnesses said Gordon then pulled Murembya off of the freshman woman.

Police said Murembya told both victims that he was going to rape them and touched them with his genitals. Murembya’s lawyer did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday and Wednesday.

Moritz told police that after Gordon pulled him off of the second woman, Murembya ran into an open field “yelling that he wants to rape someone.”

The freshman said Murembya ran toward him, so he grabbed Murembya’s arms and put him “in a hold around his neck.”

“Throughout the time I was holding him, I heard him say that he wanted to ‘fuck’ the women he was going after and that he wanted it all to end and that he wanted to die,” the freshman told police. “I told him that people were going to help him and that he was going to be OK.”

As a crowd formed, the male freshman told bystanders to call 911 and to get Murembya water while they waited for police to arrive.

The incident began earlier on Sunday, according to Murembya’s girlfriend, who told police that she saw him “put a tab of what he called acid in his mouth” at about 12:30 p.m.

“There was more than one dose of acid on the piece of paper,” she said.

After Murembya took the LSD, according to his girlfriend, he “said he was feeling fine,” but when he began to peak on the drug, he became incoherent, angry and sad. She said she refused to let him leave the room.

“Saano was out of control and I could not control him so I called his roommate,” she wrote, shortly after which police say Murembya fled the building and attacked the two women at the nearby RPCC, which houses a dining hall, lounge areas and the Bear Necessities eatery.

Cornell police received a report of the incident at 4:40 p.m. and said in a statement that when officers arrived, Murembya appeared to be “under the influence of some type of drug.”

Murembya was taken by Bangs Ambulance to Cayuga Medical Center, where he was evaluated before being arrested “upon his release,” police said.

Cornell Athletics spokesperson Jeremy Hartigan said Wednesday that Murembya is no longer on the team. The cross country and track teams were called in for an emergency meeting Tuesday in response to the arrest, during which they were told not to speak to the press, according to two people present and another person briefed on the meeting.

The alleged sexual abuse follows a state Education Department report this month that said more sexual assaults were reported at Cornell than at any other college or university in New York between January and May of this year.

With 199 incidents, there were almost twice the number of sexual assault incidents reported at Cornell than at New York University, which has more than twice the students and is second on the list with 100 reports. Responding to the report, Cornell officials said they believe the University is not more dangerous, but that students may be more likely to report assaults at Cornell than students at other colleges.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual or domestic violence, The Advocacy Center in Tompkins County is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 607-277-5000 to offer free and confidential support. For Cornell resources, visit caringcommunity.cornell.edu.

Sports Editor Dylan McDevitt ’19 and Assistant News Editor Paris Ghazi ’21 contributed reporting to this article.