Attacked by surprise, an ISU student fights back


Photo: Karuna Ang/Iowa State Daily

Tania Lee Xu Yar, junior in nutritional science, poses with a container of pepper spray that she got after she was attacked June 29, 2011. 

Katherine Klingseis

Tania Xu Yar Lee was sitting at her computer on the afternoon of June 29 when she felt an arm wrap around her neck and begin choking her.

“At first I thought it was my ex-roommate because she does Hapkido and she likes to do that to me sometimes,” Lee said. “So, I was like, ‘Hey, stop fooling around! I can’t breathe!'”

Lee, a junior in nutritional science who moved to Iowa from Malaysia last fall, soon realized that the arm did not belong to her ex-roommate, and that the situation was no laughing matter.

“It wasn’t until he got me out of my room to the living room that I realized, ‘Oh no, this is not my ex-roommate. It’s something more serious than that. I don’t know him,'” she said. “I got scared, and I realized that I had to get out of his arm lock.”

Lee said she escaped the stranger’s grasp, and then a fight ensued. She was afraid to hit the assailant.

“The thing is, I’m kind of scared. I don’t want to punch him, or kick him, or do whatever because … if I make him angry, he might do something different. He might hurt me,” she said.

The struggle eventually ended with Lee and the stranger on the floor. At that point, the skills Lee had learned in Judo class helped her end the fight.

“I just used my legs to lock him down. I was trying to stop him from attacking me because I don’t want him to hurt me, and I don’t want to do anything to him,” she said. “At the time, he realized that he can’t do anything else, so he said, ‘I’ll let you go if you let me go.'”

For a moment she questioned whether or not she should let the stranger go. As she was thinking, the attacker punched her neck, then fled her apartment, she said.

“Immediately, I ran to the door and locked the door,” Lee said.

After calming down a bit, Lee went to Frederiksen Court’s main office, and reported the incident. She learned that the person who attacked her matched the description of a missing teenager.

“They kind of were like, ‘Oh, is he wearing white?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, how do you know this? Did someone get attacked too?'” Lee said.

The person who attacked Lee matched the description of Philip Siragusa, a 17-year-old from California. Before the attack Siragusa had been moving furniture in some of Fredricksen Court’s unoccupied units. He was working for Knights on the Move, a program staffed by residents from Woodward Academy. 

Woodward Academy is a residential treatment facility for young males. The academy’s programs are designed to reform boys and teenagers who behave disruptively or unlawfully. One of its programs is Knights on the Move, which has a contract with Iowa State.

The ISU Police Division received a call at 12:40 p.m. on June 29 from Woodward Academy officials, reporting that Siragusa walked away from the work project, Lt. Eliott Florer of the ISU Police said.

“At that point, he was just a walkaway juvenile,” Florer said. “We didn’t know if he was just upset and walked outside to cool off.”

At 2:30 p.m., the ISU Police received a call from Frederiksen Court officials, who reported that a man who matched Siragusa’s description had assaulted a woman in a Frederiksen Court apartment.

“That definitely changed the situation,” Florer said. “We had officers and detectives immediately flood the area.”

The officers began their search for Siragusa in the immediate area around Frederiksen Court, Florer said. He explained that the search area increased as the officers searched for Siragusa.

“It was a large geographical area,” he said. “But we saturated the area, stuck with it and apprehended the individual.”

Officers spotted Siragusa near Hayward Avenue and Storm Street at 3:44 p.m. and took him into custody.

“There was no fight,” Florer said. “He was taken into custody without too much of a problem.”

Florer said that Siragusa was then taken to the Story County Justice Center. Siragusa was charged with burglary in the first degree.

According to Iowa Courts Online, public defender Shannon Leighty filed a motion to transfer jurisdiction for Sirgagusa’s case to juvenile court.

Siragusa was taken to the Central Iowa Detention Center on July 8. On Friday, Siragusa was taken to another facility, the location of which has not been publicly disclosed. There will be an arraignment hearing for him at 1 p.m. on July 25.

Lee’s experience has taught her a valuable lesson: Be more careful.

“Ames is a very safe place,” she said. “I walked alone here all the time at night — it’s safe — but now I’ll be more careful and I might not do that as often. Just have got to be careful.”