Ruth George, a physical therapy student, wanted to help other people heal, her family said in the wake of her death.
The 19-year old student at the University of Illinois at Chicago was at a professional fraternity event Saturday night (Nov. 23, 2019) and returned with a friend, who parted ways. George walked alone alone to her white Kia in a parking garage, authorities said.
She caught the attention of a stranger, Donald Thurman, who tried talking to her after she walked by, said James Murphy, the assistant state’s attorney for Cook County.
“The defendant was angry that he was being ignored,” Murphy said in a statement Tuesday.
George’s next moments, according to police, bring to bare the nightmarish, harrowing reality for women on any given day, particularly when encountering a man, alone, on a darkened street.
Thurman, 26, pursued George and closed in while he “catcalled” her throughout the garage, Murphy said. She arrived at her car, but Thurman choked her from behind and dragged her into the car, where he sexually assaulted her before fleeing in a distinctive white jacket, Murphy said, citing images on captured on surveillance videos.
At home, George’s sisters grew concerned when she was late, prosecutors said, and they contacted police.
Her cellphone location pinged to the garage. Along with police, George’s friends and family discovered her in the car, cold and unresponsive with her clothes half off. Drag marks from her shoes and fingers suggested there was a struggle, officials say.
They tried CPR, but she was pronounced dead at the scene, Murphy said.
Police identified his face on video, which prompted them to set up additional surveillance to see if he returned to the area near a subway stop, Murphy said. He was spotted and arrested when he did return, and the white jacket was recovered at his home.
Thurman was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated sexual assault following a confession, university police said in a statement. Prosecutors said he was being held with no set bail.
A memorial on campus for George was adorned with flowers and framed photos showing her with a wide smile.
“She was the beloved baby of our family,” George’s family said in a statement obtained by NBC Chicago. “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 was known fondly as “Ruthie” on campus, university chancellor Michael Amiridis said.
“Ruthie was an Honors College student who focused on her studies, a young woman who dreamed of becoming a physical therapist to heal people and who was always there to lend a hand to her peers, many of whom would seek her out because of her compassion for others.”
Thurman was on parole after a robbery conviction in 2016, the Chicago Tribune reported.
His court-appointed attorney, public defender Valerie Panozzo, said in court Tuesday that he struggled with mental health issues and homelessness. His next court date is Dec. 16, prosecutors said.
Since her death, George’s family and friends have taken to Facebook to leave notes of remembrance.
“She was the light of our family and the best of all of us,” her sister Esther wrote.