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Bragg soldier 'person of interest' in Fayetteville rape cases

A Fort Bragg soldier charged with two burglaries and a sexual assault that occurred on the post has been named a "person of interest" in a string of rape cases in Fayetteville, police said.

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Police on Tuesday named a Fort Bragg soldier charged with two burglaries and a sexual assault on post a "person of interest" in a string of rape cases in Fayetteville.

Army investigators said late Monday that they charged Spc. Aaron Michael Pernell, 22, of 500 Regency Drive, in the burglaries and sexual assault on post. The alleged crimes occurred in December in the Ste. Mere Eglise neighborhood, authorities said.

Although Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine said in a statement that police would know in seven to 10 days whether Pernell was linked to any local crimes, one of the lead investigators in the case issued a caveat on that time frame Tuesday.

"That's just giving a time-line for when we are hoping to have some additional information. There is no guarantee that in seven to 10 days we will," Sgt. Pam Brewington said.

Pernell, a member of 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, is an infantryman who fires mortars.

Fayetteville police charged him in September with breaking into another home, where a mother and child were inside. No one was injured in that incident, and Pernell was released on bond.

Maj. Brian Fickel, spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division, said Army investigators apprehended Pernell on Friday and, after questioning him, filed charges on Monday. He declined to disclose the evidence that led to Pernell's arrest or to discuss any possible links to the Fayetteville rapes.

Six women in Fayetteville and a seventh in Hope Mills reported being sexually assaulted since late June. In each case, the victim said a man broke her home – usually an apartment – late at night while she was alone, according to police reports. In an eighth case, a burglar tried to sexually assault a Fayetteville woman before fleeing.

Special Agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command said they are working "very closely" with the Fayetteville Police Department in the case.

"The safety and welfare of our family members is our highest priority, especially with so many of our troops deployed," Fickel said . "We want our families to know we're working around the clock to ensure their safety and that Fort Bragg is a safe place to live."

Brewington said she doesn't know whether the time frame outlined by Bergamine would allow for the testing of any DNA evidence.

"I have not heard of a DNA match in one of our cases, so I would have to check into that," she said.

Last month, Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said DNA from a rape that occurred last August east of Raeford matched evidence from a case in Fayetteville. Fayetteville police haven't confirmed such a link.

Peterkin declined to comment Tuesday on Pernell's arrest, but he said a task force of local, state and federal authorities that is investigating the string of rape cases planned to meet Tuesday to discuss it.

An Article 32 hearing, which is the military equivalent of a probable cause hearing, will be held for Pernell in the next week to determine whether a court-martial is warranted, Fickel said. The soldier will be confined on Fort Bragg until the hearing, he said.

Even with the arrest, Brewington said, the public, especially women, should remain vigilant to fend off any future assaults.

"By no means does this mean that the public should let their guard down," she said.

The Army CID is asking anyone with additional information related to the case to call 910-391-3542 or the Military Police at 910-396-0392.