Tina Waddell was airlifted to WellStar Kennestone Hospital after the attack, which left her with numerous broken facial bones and extensive bruising and swelling. She remembers little of the actual attack, police have said.
The attack took place in late afternoon or early evening and echoed a similar incident eight years ago. Jennifer Ewing, a middle-aged mother of three from Sandy Springs, was dragged off her bicycle into the woods, sexually assaulted and beaten to death. Previously convicted sex offender Michael Ledford was soon arrested after police were tipped off by his mother. He was later sentenced to death by lethal injection and is now on death row. We remain optimistic that Mrs. Waddell’s attacker will be caught as well, hopefully before he attacks again.
Family, friends and supporters of the most recent victim have refused to give into fear, and about 150 of them gathered in Hiram Saturday morning to “finish” the two-mile walk Waddell had originally set out on, or as they put it, “Take Back the Trail for Tina.”
In the bigger scheme of the things, the Silver Comet Trail is safe. Attacks like those described above have been extremely rare. But that’s not to say those using the trail should be oblivious to the need to protect themselves. After all, the 61.5-mile trail is a converted railroad rail bed and stretches not just through suburban areas, but also field and forest where users can easily be out of sight and earshot of anyone else. With that in mind, some “safety first” tips:
- Rely on strength in numbers. Don’t use the trail by yourself, and if you insist on doing so, stick to the well-traveled parts and stay in sight of others.
- Be sure to tell someone you are going on the trail and when you are expected back.
- Pack a cell phone. Report any suspicious persons or activity.
- Walking or running alone on the trail (or anywhere else for that matter) at dusk or after dark while wearing earbuds can be an invitation to trouble, especially for females.
- Take your dog with you.
- Many users no doubt feel safer by carrying a firearm or pepper spray. Even a walking stick can come in handy to ward off wild animals.
- Keep in mind there’s no way the police jurisdictions along the trail can patrol every inch of it at all times. You are the one with primary responsibility for your own protection — not them. That goes not just for the Silver Comet Trail but for Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and the less-traveled parts of other local parks.
- The best way of ensuring your safety is by not making a target of yourself in the first place.
The bottom line? Don’t assume it can’t or won’t happen to you.
Last week’s tragic attack is a reminder than it can.