The apparent murder of a young woman out for an afternoon jog on a sunny Sunday has caused chills in the central Massachusetts running community.
Going out for a run and not coming home is the fear in the back of all runners’ minds, said Stephen Laska, president of the Central Mass Striders.
And it’s what happened to Vanessa Marcotte on Sunday. The 27-year-old Boston University graduate left her mother’s house in Princeton around 1 p.m. and still hadn’t returned home almost three hours later. Her family called police, and hours later, her body was found in the woods along Brooks Station Road.
Laska has been on that country road, and he and his fellow runners are stunned that anyone could be snatched on a roadway that has plenty of activity on an afternoon.
“People are nervous,” Laska said. “And I think women are feeling a little bit violated, in the sense that something they love and enjoy doing, suddenly, they have to be so careful about.”
Central Mass Striders has about 700 members, mostly in sprawling Worcester County. About half of them are women.
Already, runners are changing their routines, Laska said. They’re pairing up or running in groups. They’re leaving their headphones at home. They’re carrying a cellphone with them.
“I think it’s always been in the back of people’s minds that things like this could occur,” Laska said. “I just think because it’s so close to home, it’s had quite an impact.”
On the group’s Facebook page, runners expressed sadness and condolences for Marcotte’s family. They shared websites advertising self defense products for runners. They also shared posts of group runs captioned “safety in numbers,” and posted safety tips.
“Stay strong, keep an eye out for each other, be aware of your surroundings, and continue to be the active, healthy, positive, life-loving people I know you are,” one post read.
One runner noted that, “in light of the recent murder of a fellow runner,” there would be more monitors in the wooded areas of the park during a planned group run on Tuesday night in Newton Square.
Until the person responsible is caught, Laska said, the group will be on alert. But he and his fellow runners won’t let the attack keep them off the road.
“It’s a very important thing for us to make sure everyone still enjoys the sport and comes home safe,” Laska said.