Search for suspect after home invasion, woman assaulted in Merrimac

MERRIMAC, Mass. — Lake Attitash looms soothingly in the distance, but along Hillside Avenue, the Fourth of July could not be more tense. 

“I’m shocked. Nothing happens in Merrimac. It’s such a small town,” said Laurie Williams. “The houses are close together. Everybody keeps an eye out for each other.”

Saturday night, that apparently wasn’t enough.

Just after 11 p.m., a woman living on Hillside Avenue reported waking up to find a man armed with a knife, Merrimac Police said. She was repeatedly assaulted but at some point managed to flee to a nearby house.

The victim was taken to Lawrence General Hospital, police said, and was expected to be released.

Many neighbors did not find out about the alleged attack until Sunday afternoon.

“My boyfriend and I actually came home around 10:30 (Saturday night) and didn’t see anything,” Williams said. “We were up late until about midnight, later than we normally would be. We didn’t hear anything. I have three dogs and they didn’t make any sounds.”

About two o’clock Sunday, Williams got a cell phone alert.

“Usually I just kind of brush them aside, but it said Merrimac,” Williams said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my God, nothing happens in Merrimac.’ And then I saw it was my street.”

She would later learn the assault involved someone she knew -- a woman in her 70s.

“Very friendly, nice woman. Older women. Works locally. Was always out in her yard doing yard work. And shoveling. Just a very quiet nice lady,” she said.

After hearing about the alleged assault, a neighbor who identified himself as ‘Paul’ was out doing yard work: cutting back bushes to help his surveillance cameras get a better view of the streets.

“The woman that was assaulted? She’s an extremely pleasant, nice woman,” Paul said. “I’m just very disappointed, very shocked and mad.”

And Paul, like other neighbors, is also worried.

“Whoever this is could strike again,” he said. “And presumably they’ll target the weakest of us. That’s who they prey on. And we got to put a stop to it. This can’t happen in this neighborhood, in this community.”

Police described the suspect as a white man in his 40s with a large build.

“This is an active investigation which means there are more questions than answers right now,” Merrimac Police Chief Eric Shears said. “I can assure the community that we are working closely with our law enforcement partners to do everything we can to locate this suspect as quickly as possible.”

Police ask Merrimac residents to remain vigilant to report anything unusual by calling Merrimac Police at 978-346-8321.

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