A brutal assault on a 94-year-old National Park Service ranger, a beloved figure in the Richmond community, has spurred an outpouring of concern by well-wishers from all over the country as police work to find the attacker.
Betty Reid Soskin, who is the oldest park ranger in the national park system and leads tours at the Rosie the Riveter/ WW II Home Front National Historic Park, was attacked Monday nightwhen a man broke into her home, police said. When she tried to grab her cellphone to call for help, the intruder wrestled it away before punching her several times, knocking her to the floor.
The man then dragged her from her bedroom and into the hallway, where he punched her again. Soskin was able to grab the attacker's groin in self-defense, then crawl away and lock herself in the bathroom. When she came out, she saw that her iPhone, iPad, laptop and jewelry were missing. Also taken was the presidential coin Soskin received in December when she introduced President Obama at the White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
Soskin suffered several bruises in the attack but no concussions or broken bones. She was evaluated by paramedics but declined to be taken to the hospital.
"We're all very emotional," said Tom Leatherman, a National Park Service superintendent and Soskin's boss. "We are shocked, we're angry, we're in disbelief. It's hard to believe that it was a random attack. She has obviously been in the news a lot and has gotten a lot of attention."
Soskin is recovering at home and has received many well-wishers, Leatherman said. Residents stopped by the national park with offers to help Soskin replace the stolen items, while rangers from all over the country have called Richmond to inquire about Soskin's condition.
"People want to know what they can do to help," Leatherman said. The park has set up an online fund for Soskin, at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/rangerbettysoskin, where donations can be made.
On social media, well-wishers spoke of Soskin's relisilience and grace, and were shocked that an elderly woman would have to endure such an attack in her own home.
"Betty Reid Soskin is a landmark to humanity," wrote Zac Wear, a Richmond resident, on Facebook. "Few choose to embody grace and ease so consistently, so specifically to the purpose of being a gift to society."
Police are investigating the break-in but have few leads. The suspect is described as a man in his early to mid-20s, with a slender build and 5-feet-8 inches to 5-10 tall.
"We're hoping if there are any witnesses who may have seen someone running from the area or were approached by someone who wanted to sell the coin or exchange it, that they call us immediately," said Lt. Felix Tan, a spokesman with the Richmond Police Department. Anyone with information about the case can contact Detective Florencio Rivera at 510-621-1755.
Meanwhile, news of Soskin's attack has reached the White House, where President Obama said he would issue her a new presidential coin for her work.