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Police released a sketch of the suspect. Anyone with information can call 215) 685-3251 or (215) 686-TIPS.

Updated Dec. 20, 5:30 p.m.

Two Penn students were victims of an armed home invasion and sexual assault Dec. 19.

Philadelphia police say that the incident is similar to two others that occurred in Center City in October and believe the same person is responsible for all three attacks.

At about 3 p.m. on Dec. 19, a 22-year-old Penn student was leaving her apartment on an upper floor of an apartment building located on the 4400 block of Spruce Street. An unidentified male approached her in the hallway and forced her back into her apartment at knifepoint, according to Capt. John Darby of the Philadelphia Police Special Victims Unit.

Inside, he produced a handgun and robbed her of her iPod, cell phone, laptop and cash. He then bound, blindfolded and gagged her, Darby said.

The woman was tied for more than an hour, when her roommate, a 24-year-old Penn student, arrived. She was robbed of similar items and then sexually assaulted several times by the perpetrator over the course of several hours.

Darby said the perpetrator went to great lengths to hide his identity - he wore gloves and a ski mask and also forced his victim to take a shower to try to eliminate any evidence left as a result of the assault.

The women called the police when the man left the apartment sometime after 7 p.m. They were taken to the hospital but did not suffer critical injuries, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said.

It is unclear how the man, whom the women did not know, entered the apartment.The man was armed with a gun and a knife. He is described as a black male in his mid- to late-20s, about 6 foot tall with short black hair and having an average build and goatee. He is said to be wearing black jacket with a zipper down the front over a tan shirt and blue jeans with Timberland boots. He is possibly carrying a blue bookbag and blue umbrella.

Darby said that this incident bears similarities between two incidents that occurred in Center City this fall.

The first incident, which took place in the foyer of an apartment building on the 1100 block of Lombard Street on Oct. 21, was thwarted when the victim screamed for help.

The other occurred the next night on the 900 block of Clinton Street. In that incident, a man and a woman were approached by a suspect who fits the description of the University City attacker as they were entering their apartment. He forced the two into their apartment, robbed them and then sexually assaulted the woman.

Darby described the suspect as "cunning," saying that he was let into the apartment building on Oct. 22 after pretending to be talking to a person inside the building on his cell phone.

He cautioned that the suspect is extremely dangerous and also warned people not to let anyone into apartment buildings without first being sure of the person's identity.

"He's extremely aggressive, extremely violent," Darby said, noting that, unlike in most other home invasions, this person remains in the apartments of his victims for several hours after robbing them.

The Division of Public Safety sent out text and e-mail alerts through the University's UPennAlert emergency-notification system shortly before 10:30 p.m. Friday in response to the incident. It was the first time UPennAlert had been used to alert the community to a safety threat since Penn implemented the system in August 2007.

Rush said the alert was sent because the suspect had not been apprehended and because students, faculty and staff live in the area of the incident, which occurred outside the Penn Police patrol zone.

"We wanted people to take every precaution until this person is in custody," she said.

The system delivered messages, which alerted people to the incident and directed them to the DPS Web site for information and updates, to 52,842 registered users, Rush said. She said it took about 15 minutes for the alert to reach 82 percent of the system's database.

Some messages were not delivered, she said, probably because the person's contact information had changed. Students or staff who have changed their cell phone number can update their information on Penn In Touch.

Darbyÿsaid that police were focusing their investigation on people who live in the apartment building where the attack occurred and might have seen the perpetrator loitering either outside or on the upper floors. Philadelphia Police are also working with DPS to review area surveillance tapes and DPS has increased patrols in the area.

He asked anyone with information about the attack to contact the Special Victims Unit at (215) 685-3251, 685-3252 or 685-3265 or to call the Philadelphia Police tips line at (215) 686-TIPS.

University President Amy Gutmann described the attack on two students as "deeply horrific."

"We will do everything in our power to support them through this event, to guard their privacy and enable them to recover from this trauma," Gutmann said in a statement. ÿ"At the same time, Penn Police will work closely with the Philadelphia Police Department as they pursue this case. ÿIt is our fervent hope that this criminal is apprehended as soon as possible."

This article was updated on Jan. 16. We originally said the University City attack was similar to an assault on the 900 block of Carpenter Street in October. The October incident occurred on Clinton Street.

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