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Official: Man in custody in Central Park attack

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NEW YORK — Investigators took a man in for questioning Thursday in the reported rape in broad daylight of a 73-year-old birdwatcher who was found battered and bloodied in a wooded area near one of Central Park's most popular spots.

No arrests had been made, though, and the investigation continues, according to an official who was not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

The woman told police she was attacked around 11 a.m. Wednesday in a wooded area near Strawberry Fields, a busy area that serves as a memorial to John Lennon. The woman told investigators a man threw her to the ground and attacked her, then made off with a backpack that contained her camera.

The woman told the New York Post in an interview published Thursday that the man also jumped on her back, pummeled her, grabbed her throat and threatened to cut her jugular when she screamed.

She told police she thinks the assailant was the same man she photographed masturbating about nine days ago in another, more isolated spot known as the Ramble. She said he demanded she delete the image and tried to grab her camera but didn't succeed. Police said that initial encounter wasn't reported.

She told the Post she feels jittery but is mostly enraged.

"Kill him. Cut off his penis. That's fine," she said. "Cut off his feet, then hit him over the head. Then give him life in prison."

She also vowed to return to the park that she loves.

"I hope he goes to jail for a long time, and he gets raped, over and over again," she told the newspaper.

Eric Ozawa, a college professor and birdwatcher, found the woman and called 911. He told reporters he noticed legs sticking out along the path but thought it was somebody sleeping. As he got closer, he realized it was a woman lying face down. Her face was badly swollen, she had a black eye and she was covered in mulch, he said.

Still, she appeared "self-possessed and lucid," he said.

"It's shocking that it could happen in the park in broad daylight," he said. "That someone could rape somebody in her 70s."

Authorities released surveillance images of a man wearing black pants, a black T-shirt and white sneakers. He was carrying a backpack that resembled the one stolen from the woman, and also wearing a second backpack.

Though the popular park is considered safe and there have been few reported crimes there in the past several years, there have been some headline-grabbing exceptions.

On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old investment banker was found after being attacked while jogging on April 19, 1989. She became known worldwide as "the Central Park jogger."

She was in a coma for 12 days before beginning her near-miraculous recovery. The jogger, Trisha Meili, disclosed her identity in 2003 and published her memoir.

City officials said Thursday that they would begin offering free self-defense classes in Central Park and will arrange for free training sessions at local senior centers.

Strawberry Fields is one of Central Park's busiest spots. It was named after the Beatles song "Strawberry Fields Forever" and was officially dedicated in 1985, five years after Mark David Chapman fired five shots outside the nearby Dakota apartment house on Dec. 8, 1980, killing Lennon.

Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.