Police: Soldier person of interest in rapes

Aaron Michael Pernell

January 31, 2010 9:00:00 PM PST
Authorities said Monday that a soldier stationed at Fort Bragg is in custody for two alleged burglaries and an alleged sexual assault that took place on post. The incidents happened last December in Bragg's St. Mere Eglise neighborhood.

Spc. Aaron M. Pernell, an indirect fire infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, has been charged.

Fort Bragg officials say the female victims are not in the military and hinted to ABC11 that they may have been alone while their spouses were deployed.

"First and foremost we do have a suspect in custody," 82nd Airborne PAO Major Brian Fickel said. "This soldier is innocent until proven guilty and it's important for him to have his time in court. It's also important for our families on Fort Bragg to know there are many agencies working around the clock to ensure their safety."

Fickel didn't comment on the specifics of the cases. But did say Spec. Pernell is confined on Fort Bragg.

He was apprehended Friday and was charged Monday.

Pernell also is a person of interest in a string of unsolved rapes in Fayetteville.

In the seven unsolved rape cases across the city, an eighth in Hope Mills and ninth in Raeford - all the women were home alone when their apartments were broken into.

The victim's description of the suspect is similar to the one Fort Bragg officials released along with a sketch earlier this year.

The same sketch caught the attention of the Hoke County sheriff, who says a victim in his county was raped at gunpoint by a man who broke into her home. There also is a DNA connection between one of the Fayetteville cases and the Hoke case.

"If it's the same person, he's already been in two counties, and who's to say where he's at," Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin told ABC11. "We don't know where he's laying his head. He could be laying his head in Hoke County. He could be laying his head in Cumberland or Hope Mills."

Fayetteville police say for now it remains a military case. They say it will take seven to 10 days to determine if Pernell will be charged in any of its cases.

"The task force is taking a look at all the cases, looking for similarities doing comparisons, seeing if the cases do relate to each other," Sgt. Pam Brewington said.

Despite recent developments, authorities say residents should stay alert.

"Always be aware of your surroundings...that your residence is secure... that you report any suspicious activity," said Sgt. Pam Brewington, Fayetteville police spokesperson. "But by no means does this mean that the public should let their guard down."

According to Special Agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, Pernell was apprehended as a result of the investigative work between CID and local law enforcement officials.

Pernell, 22 and a native of Tulsa, Okla., entered the Army in March 2006 and completed initial entry training at Fort Benning, Ga. In July 2006 he was assigned to 1-325 AIR. He has served two tours in Iraq.

Despite the latest developments police warn residents not to drop their guard.

"Always be aware of your surroundings," Sgt. Brewington said. "That your residence is secure, and report any suspicious activity."

Pernell is also charged with first degree burglary in Fayetteville.

He was arrested last September for allegedly breaking into a Fayetteville home, but that case is still pending.

Pernell was free on bond when he was charged Monday.

A Fort Bragg spokesman says an article 32 hearing - the military's version of a probable cause hearing - will be held within the next week.

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