GREENWICH VILLAGE — A 24-year-old missionary was attacked and raped while attempting to unlock the door of New York University's Catholic Center early Thursday morning, police and church officials said.
The woman, who sources said arrived early to set up a breakfast event there for several priests, was using her key to enter the center at 238 Thompson St., near Washington Square South, about 5:30 a.m. when a man wearing a hat walked up from behind and pushed her inside, police said.
He punched the woman's head and chest repeatedly and raped her, an NYPD spokesman said.
The attacker then fled the scene, officials said. The victim was taken to Beth Israel Medical Center in stable condition with cuts and bruises on her face and body, police said.
"She's in remarkably good spirits considering her ordeal," the center's director Fr. Allan White said. He said that he visited her in the hospital about 11 a.m. where she is currently undergoing medical tests to determine the extent of her injuries.
The woman, while not a member of a religious order, works to promote religious life on campus, said a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling.
As investigators scoured the area for footage of the attack later Thursday, a pair of shoes and another article of clothing lay in the center's lobby beside numbered yellow evidence cards.
Investigators believe that the attacker — whom police described as a tall, muscular man in his 20s — may have been following the woman as she walked to the building along the southern part of the park before the attack, NYU said.
He was last seen wearing a black fedora, a gray sweater, dark jeans and a bandage on one arm, police said.
"I know you join me in praying for the well-being of the victim, and in hoping that the person who committed this crime is brought to justice swiftly," said the university's vice president of public safety, Jules Martin, in a statement.
"This morning’s event is a reminder to us all that even with the strides our city has made in reducing crime — particularly violent crime — and even with the presence of a substantial security force around University buildings, we must be mindful of the possibility of criminal activity," Martin's statement continued.
Officials at the Archdiocese were shocked and saddened by the attack, Zwilling said.
"We'll work with the police and the NYU community for whatever measures they feel might be necessary," Zwilling said.
The center opened last fall on the ground floor of the NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Life, which also houses facilities for Muslim and Jewish prayer as well as spaces for yoga and meditation.
In Washington Square Park, near where the center is located, some students were trying to process the attack.
"I was quite shocked. It was extra terrible that it happened at our religious center," NYU sophomore Eleanor Hall Watson said. But she said that she still doesn't consider the area dangerous.
"That's not to say this isn't a bit jarring," she said. "I will certainly be a little bit more cognizant in the future."
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477).
With reporting by Ben Fractenberg and Janon Fisher.