CHICAGO — A Chicago college student walking to her car was stalked through a campus parking deck, sexually assaulted and strangled after she ignored her alleged killer’s repeated catcalls, according to prosecutors.
Ruth George, 19, of Berwyn, had just left a semiformal professional fraternity event early the morning of Nov. 23 when she was slain, according to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Police Department. Donald Thurman, 26, of Chicago, is charged with first-degree murder and criminal sexual assault in George's slaying.
Assistant State's Attorney James Murphy said Nov. 26 that George, a sophomore studying kinesiology, and a friend had caught a Lyft ride to the UIC campus from the event sponsored by Delta Epsilon Mu, which is a national coed fraternity for students going into medical fields.
George and her friend parted ways, with the friend heading toward the dorms and George walking alone to her white Kia, which was in a university parking deck on Halstead Street, Murphy said.
As she walked past a Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line stop, George caught Thurman’s attention, according to the prosecutor.
"The defendant thought she was pretty and tried talking to her, but the victim ignored him," Murphy said.
Murphy said Thurman followed George and tried again to talk to her.
“Then the defendant catcalled at her,” the prosecutor said.
He said Thurman continued stalking and catcalling George as she walked to where her car was parked.
"When the victim arrived at her car, the defendant was angry that he was being ignored," Murphy said.
The prosecutor offered graphic details of what investigators say happened next.
Warning: The details may be disturbing to some readers. See Murphy talk about the case below, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Murphy said Thurman told investigators he grabbed George around the neck and put her in a choke hold from behind, causing her to pass out. Both he and George fell to the ground.
"With his arm still around the victim's neck, the defendant dragged the victim from the ground and he opened her back seat car door," Murphy said. "The defendant then threw the victim into the back seat of her car."
While George was facedown and unconscious, Thurman pulled down her pants and underwear, the prosecutor said.
"The defendant then penetrated the victim's vagina with his tongue and then his finger," Murphy said.
Thurman told investigators he put on a condom, but said he did not have intercourse with George, the prosecutor said. The discarded condom was later found on the floorboard of the car.
Semen was present, Murphy said.
“The defendant then left the victim in her vehicle,” he said.
UIC police officials said George's family reported her missing around 11 a.m. Nov. 23, telling authorities she had not come home and they had not heard from her since the night before. George's sisters had contacted her friends, who pinged her cellphone and traced it to the Halstead Street parking deck, authorities said.
Accompanied by UIC police officers, George’s sisters found her in the back seat of the car, in the same position in which Thurman had left her, Murphy said.
"The victim was still face down, her pants were pulled down exposing her buttocks, her Spanx were ripped and her body suit had been pulled to the side," the prosecutor said.
“(George) was cold to the touch and unresponsive.”
George’s sisters tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead at the scene, Murphy said. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office determined George died of strangulation.
Murphy said investigators found drag marks from George’s shoes and fingers on the scene. Crime scene technicians also discovered a palm print, which matched Thurman, on George’s Kia, according to the prosecutor.
UIC police Chief Kevin Booker said his department's investigation determined George entered the parking garage alone around 1:35 a.m. Nov. 23. Footage from both private and CTA surveillance cameras showed a man, later identified as Thurman, entering the garage behind her, Murphy said.
The prosecutor said Thurman is identifiable in the video because of the distinctive white jacket he wore. The jacket seen in the footage was later recovered at Thurman’s home.
The security footage also showed Thurman leaving the garage, authorities found.
"Thirty-five minutes later, the defendant is captured on video running from the parking garage alone and then making his way through the UIC campus," Murphy said.
Booker and Murphy said footage from the university’s security cameras showed Thurman’s travel near the campus. Investigators staked out the CTA Blue Line, believing they might find the suspect there.
Detectives saw Thurman at the station at Halstead and Harrison streets around 2 a.m. Oct. 24, the day after George was killed. He was taken in for questioning.
Booker said Thurman confessed about 13 hours later, the Chicago Tribune reported. Murphy said though the defendant denied having sexual intercourse with George, he said that he "knew his DNA would be all over the scene."
George, a high school gymnast who graduated from Naperville Central High School in 2918, was a good student who was part of UIC's Honors College, the university said. "Ruthie," as she was known to friends and family, planned to become a physical therapist.
"It was apparent that she was here to learn, and that she thoroughly enjoyed learning," Tracy Baynard, associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition, told UIC Today. "Ruthie not only possessed book smarts, but she was a genuine person. She was one (student) I could look at in class to determine if my lecture was making sense or not, and she always provided a laugh or a smirk at my goofy jokes."
University administrators who knew George said it is her smile they will remember most.
"Some people can light up a room, and Ruthie was one of those people," Michele McCrillis, Honors College assistant dean, told UIC Today.
Tomar Kanan, clinical assistant professor of kinesiology and nutrition, said George was gifted.
"She was compassionate, enthusiastic, sincere and incredibly dedicated to her studies. She never missed an opportunity to help one of her peers," Kanan said. "I believe Ruthie would have made incredible contributions in her future."
Members of the Delta Epsilon Mu Psi Chapter, where George served as fundraising chair, described her as intelligent, caring and humorous, saying she was loved by all who knew her.
"To us, she was just Ruthie," the fraternity members said in a statement. "She joined DEM in 2018 as a part of our Iota class and we will never forget how big her smile was when she was named 'Rangi Mtoto,' or 'Baby Color.'
“That was the perfect name for her because she brought color into the lives of everyone around her.”
The organization held a vigil for George on Nov. 25 and created a GoFundMe page to help her family with funeral expenses. As of Wednesday, the fundraiser had raised nearly $40,000.
George’s mother, who asked not to be named, issued a statement to the media three days after her daughter’s brutal killing.
"Ruth lived out her deep faith in Jesus by loving and serving others, leaving a legacy of Christ-centered kindness and sacrifice," George's mother said, according to the Tribune. "She was the beloved baby of our family.
“We grieve with hope. We hold no hatred towards the perpetrator, but our hope is no other girl would be harmed in this way and for a mother to never experience this type of heartache.”
George's sister, Esther George, on Tuesday posted on Facebook a brief video of her sister speaking in church. She wrote that Ruthie lived a Christ-centered life from a young age and was baptized this past summer.
She urged forgiveness.
"Hatred, anger, and revenge will not bring Ruthie back, but forgiveness, love, and Jesus Christ will let us see her again," Esther George wrote. "This will be extremely difficult, however, God's truth heals trauma. The love of Christ is far stronger than hate.
“Forgiveness is not just for those who you love, but also, for those who have wronged you.”
According to the Tribune, Thurman's public defender said Nov. 26 that her client has a history of mental health issues. He has been "bouncing from place to place" since being released from prison last December.
Thurman served a little over two years of a six-year sentence for snatching an iPhone from a woman’s hand and getting away in a stolen car in 2016, the newspaper reported.
His lawyer, Valarie Panozzo, asked that he be kept in protective custody in the county jail due to death threats he has received, the Tribune said.
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