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Lifeguard attacked at park in Saugus

Police search for suspect, but no arrests made

By L. Finch
Globe Correspondent / August 17, 2011

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SAUGUS - A 20-year-old woman working as a lifeguard at the Breakheart Reservation in Saugus was assaulted yesterday, prompting officials to shut down the state park as they combed the area for a suspect.

State Police said they responded to the park at 2:13 p.m. to assist in the search for a lifeguard reported missing by her supervisors. The beach where the woman worked had been closed for maintenance, and she had gone for a walk a few hours earlier, authorities said.

About an hour later, as police were conducting the search, , a female jogger found the woman at the intersection of a paved road and wooded trail and screamed for help, State Police spokesman David Procopio said.

The lifeguard, whose name was not released, told police that a man had grabbed her from behind and assaulted her. She did not get a clear look at his face, Procopio said.

She was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital with “potentially serious injuries’’ and remained there last night, he said. Detectives are investigating whether the assault was sexual.

Meanwhile, State Police locked down all entrances and exits to the park accessible by road and spoke with everyone in the reservation after the woman was found.

K-9 units and a helicopter assisted troopers on foot with the investigation, and State Police detectives were examining surveillance footage from the nearby Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School in Wakefield for any possible information.

But there are many wooded areas leading into and out of the park, possible ways a suspect could have escaped, State Police Sergeant Byron Rizos said at a press conference yesterday.

“We’re still trying to put all the pieces together,’’ Rizos said.

No arrests had been made by last evening, but detectives were following up on a handful of leads, Procopio said. He declined to give further details.

Breakheart Reservation, a 640-acre hardwood forest with two freshwater lakes, was shut down for the night, but will reopen today with increased State Police presence.

The park is overseen by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. A spokeswoman from the agency declined to comment on the attack.

Cruisers with lights flashing were parked at the entrance and exits off Forest Street last night as authorities searched the area for evidence and interviewed park employees and other lifeguards.

Don McQueen, who lives just outside the park, said he was inside the reservation nearing one of the lakes with his dog about 3 p.m. when law enforcement swarmed the area.

“There were quite a few cruisers, and it looked like they were sectioning off areas, so I knew something was wrong,’’ McQueen said last night as he tried heading back to the park to walk his dog.

He said no one was allowed to leave the reservation without giving his or her Social Security number to a state trooper.

According to McQueen, who said he has lived next to the park for 50 years, assaults in the reservation are rare, especially since State Police have increased patrols.

“My wife is naturally concerned,’’ he said, just before a trooper turned him away at the park entrance. But “in the last few years, it’s been an isolated case,’’ he said.

L. Finch can be reached at lfinch@globe.com.