DENVER — The rape of a woman at Denver International Airport has left family members raising questions about the late-night attack and officials defending security at the Rocky Mountain hub, which serves millions of travelers each year.
Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said Wednesday that violent crime is rare at the airport, and that he knows of one other alleged sexual assault there, which he said involved an airport worker attacking another employee in an area not accessible to the public.
An airport spokeswoman seconded Jackson's comments, telling The Denver Post that "something like this is terrible, but it's also very rare."
"We have many, many layers of security," spokeswoman Jenny Schiavone told the newspaper. "We believe the airport is absolutely safe."
The suspect, Noel Alexander Bertrand, 26, appeared in district court Wednesday after his arrest on suspicion of sexual assault a day earlier, and was being held in lieu of $50,000 bond.
Bertrand, of Portland, Ore., appeared calm at his court appearance but occasionally wrung papers he was holding. He had a beard and wore yellow prison-issued shirt and pants.
The family of the woman who was raped raised questions about whether some employees witnessed the attack about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday in Concourse A without intervening. Family members said the woman told them three people she believed to be airport employees walked by without helping.
The victim's family members said she had missed a connecting flight Monday evening and had to spend the night at the airport. She said her assailant had struck up a conversation with her in a restaurant, and then followed her out of the eatery, sat down beside her and tried to kiss her, according to a family member.
When she objected, the man threw her to the floor and assaulted her, the relative said.
Jackson, of the Denver police, said two workers pulled a man off the woman shortly before police officers and airport security personnel arrived, and others saw the attack and telephoned for help but didn't intervene.
The two workers, Frontier Airlines mechanics Mark Adams and Kris Musil, told Denver's KMGH-TV they were working on the tarmac when they saw something happening through the window inside concourse A but they weren't sure what.
"To me it looked like someone was trying to stuff something into a suitcase," Adams said.
The men quickly realized someone was being hurt.
"I saw the hair waving and that is when I yelled at Mark and said, `we got to go,'" said Musil.
Once inside, they saw a man and a woman.
"The first thing I saw as I went through the door and was going after him was he reared back and smacked the girl pretty hard," said Adams. "Then (he) finally stopped when I yelled at him."
While Adams approached the man, Musil said he came from behind. The workers said once he saw both men and heard Musil yelling at the police, he stepped away from the woman.
"At one time the man said, `I am going to go now,' and I told him he wasn't going anywhere," said Musil.
Adams and Musil stopped the assault, yet the two wish they could have done more. Both said they feel tremendous guilt.
"I wish we could have got there a lot sooner," said Adams.
Despite the attack, the two believe the airport is safe, but they do have a warning.
"If it happened up there on a concourse, it can happen anywhere," said Adams.
The family members said the woman was flying from her home in Oregon to a convent in Peoria, Ill., to look into a yearlong service program through the Catholic Church. The woman, who comes from a military family, is participating in a program at a convent and is on a break from studying to be a dental hygienist, according to her family.
The Associated Press does not use the names of people who report being sexually assaulted unless they agree to be identified. The AP isn't identifying the family member to protect the woman's identity.
Airport officials said they believe airport workers, including employees of outside contractors, "responded appropriately," Schiavone said.
The district attorney's office said a decision on whether to file formal charges would come later this week. Authorities said he didn't yet have an attorney.
No one returned telephone messages left at what were believed to be Bertrand's home in Portland and his family's home in Vancouver, Wash.
KMGH-TV reported that a woman who identified herself as Bertrand's grandmother said Bertrand is a former Marine. One of his previous addresses in public records was a U.S. Marine facility in Japan.
Associated Press reporter Dan Elliott contributed to this story.