What was supposed to be a quick moment on Facebook during a weekend getaway with her boyfriend instead turned into Shannon Keeler reliving the darkest moment of her life.
“So I raped you,” read the message from a former classmate at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.
More messages were sent last year by a man identified by police as Ian Cleary, who allegedly stalked Keeler at a 2013 fraternity party, followed her home, sneaked into her dorm room and sexually assaulted the freshman.
“I’ll never do it to anyone ever again.”
“I need to hear your voice.”
“I’ll pray for you.”
Nearly eight years after Keeler originally reported the incident to police, a Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday signed an arrest warrant charging Cleary with sexual assault. The action came after the Gettysburg Police Department reopened the case in 2020 and verified Keeler’s account and the alleged confession, which was first reported by the Associated Press in May. The warrant was filed this week after police matched the Facebook account that sent the messages to a cellphone number, according to an affidavit.
Cleary, 28, of Saratoga, Calif., had not been located by authorities as of Wednesday afternoon. He did not respond to messages left at a phone number listed for him.
Although it remains unclear whether the case will head to trial, the arrest warrant obtained by Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett, R, was celebrated Wednesday by Keeler, who noted in a news release that the development came only after she told her story to the world.
“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,” said Keeler, 26.
Laura Dunn, Keeler’s attorney, told The Washington Post that while Gettysburg police have done “an excellent job in seeking to bring Cleary to justice,” she was discouraged that he had not been arrested, adding, “It’s not over yet.”
“I am hopeful that a member of the public will be able to help us track down Ian Thomas Cleary wherever he is in the world so that law enforcement can make an arrest and bring him to justice for the rape that occurred over seven years ago against Shannon,” she said.
The arrest warrant and search for Cleary comes as sexual assault cases continue to rock college campuses nationwide. A 2020 report from the Association of American Universities found that 13% of undergraduate and graduate students “experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.” About 1 in 5 college-age female survivors received assistance from a victim services agency, according to the report.
An independent investigation at Virginia Military Institute released this month found that “sexual assault is prevalent” at the school, with 14% of female cadets reporting that they had been sexually assaulted. Sixty-three percent of female cadets said that another cadet had confided that they had been sexually assaulted.
In 2013, Keeler was about to end her first semester at Gettysburg on a high note. The New Jersey native had come to the school of about 2,500 students to play goalie for the women’s lacrosse team, describing herself to the AP as “full of life.”
“You know, I didn’t have a worry in the world,” Keeler said.
As finals were wrapping up and campus was clearing out, she hoped to unwind at a fraternity party on Dec. 14, 2013, before driving home the next day. A snowstorm had pushed back her last exam to a Saturday, but she was in good spirits when she arrived at the fraternity house. She says that changed when the man later identified by police as Cleary, then a junior goalie for the men’s hockey team, allegedly started “getting gross” and “creepy” with her on the dance floor.
He “wasn’t getting the hint,” Keeler said to the AP, but she thought she had lost him when she got back to her dorm room. A male friend who accompanied her home later told authorities that the man offered $20 to leave him alone with Keeler.
Then, she heard a knock at the door and opened it, presuming it was a friend. Instead, it was a person whose name she did not even know at the time, she said, and he was in her room. She texted her friends that he was in the room and how she needed help, according to the arrest warrant.
“OMG please Help me,” she texted.
That is when Keeler says she was raped.
“As soon as he did, he started crying after,” she said last month. “He said, ‘I didn’t mean to hurt you. Did I hurt you?’ “
When he ran off, Keeler said she went to police in the hours after the encounter. She had a rape test at a hospital, but the kit was lost when the case closed in 2015. (State law would now prohibit such a move from happening.)
Keeler told the AP that when she was in college, authorities indicated to her that it was difficult to prosecute cases of alleged sexual assault when the victim had been drinking.
An arrest was not made by the time she graduated from Gettysburg College. In a statement to The Post, college spokeswoman Jamie Yates did not address the specifics of the case but said that the school “continues to support Shannon in her fight for justice” and that Keeler “represents the highest values of our community.”
After years of therapy and anxiety attacks, Keeler turned to Dunn, who told The Post that prosecutors’ decision not to prosecute at the time despite the evidence was befuddling. The 2013 incident remains within Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for such a crime, which is 12 years.
“The local Gettysburg police responded with victim-blaming and indifference when Shannon first engaged with them in 2013,” Dunn said. “Now much has changed.”
The alleged written confession on Facebook in spring 2020 was “a rarity,” Dunn said, and Keeler forwarding the screenshot to police helped the case get reopened last year. The floodgates opened further on the case when Keeler spoke to the AP, as well as ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Dunn said she admires Keeler for remaining optimistic for almost eight years, not knowing whether her case would ever turn into a potential prosecution.
“My hope is that criminal justice will finally bring Shannon some measure of peace after seven years and counting of sexual trauma ravaging her life,” she said.
The Washington Post’s Ian Shapira contributed to this report.