GETTYSBURG, Pa. — When Shannon Keeler opened a string of 6-month-old Facebook messages waiting in her inbox last June, the name attached to them sent her reeling — as did the messenger’s words.
“So, I raped you,” the man began. “I’ll never do it to anyone ever again.”
In subsequent messages, the man, who had attended Gettysburg College with Keeler, seemed to want absolution.
“I need to hear your voice,” he pleaded, according to The Associated Press.
“I’ll pray for you,” the man also wrote.
On Tuesday, more than seven years after Keeler’s alleged rapist trailed her from a party and sexually assaulted her in her dorm room, a Pennsylvania judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
Ian Thomas Cleary, 28, of Saratoga, California, faces a charge of sexual assault, according to Pennsylvania court records. He had not been arrested as of Tuesday afternoon.
“It was a sense of validation,” Keeler told ABC News last month after her story began making headlines. “I knew immediately that it’s not every day that someone gets a confession from the person that raped them.”
She said that despite the amount of time that had gone by — and the lack of progress the first time she pursued charges — she knew she had to try again.
The Gettysburg Police Department reopened the case against Cleary last year after Keeler provided detectives with the messages that appeared to come from Cleary’s social media account. After giving the messages to detectives, Keeler learned that her sexual assault exam kit, commonly called a rape kit, was destroyed after authorities initially dropped the case.
Keeler still had copies, however, of her hospital report from the exam, her police complaint, witness statements, campus police records, text messages and blog posts Cleary has written over the years.
According to the AP, investigators armed with a search warrant were able to link to Cleary the Facebook account from which the confession was sent.
The warrant for Cleary’s arrest was not issued, however, until after Keeler went public with what she said happened to her in her freshman year.
“While I am moved to tears by this result, (for) which I have waited for over seven years, I am mindful that this moment came because I went public with my story, which no survivor should have to do in order to obtain justice,” Keeler told the AP through her attorney.
Cleary, who left Gettysburg College after the alleged rape, appears to have earned a degree from Santa Clara University following his return to his native California. Now an apparent writer of gothic and medieval fiction, his online presence indicates he has lived in Europe in recent years.
Pennsylvania authorities told the AP that the search for Cleary could span the U.S. and beyond. Laura Dunn, the Washington-based attorney representing Keeler, pondered whether investigators would find the suspect.
“Are we going to be able to find him? Are we going to be able to have an arrest? Is there going to be a plea deal or successful prosecution?” Dunn said Tuesday. “I remain hopeful, but I do have a serious concern with the fact that he has not yet been arrested, not yet been located.”
‘I didn’t have a worry in the world’
Keeler said she followed campus safety protocol the night of Dec. 14, 2013, when she attended a party celebrating the last day of the fall semester. The 18-year-old New Jersey native, who was a goalkeeper on Gettysburg’s women’s lacrosse team, had initially planned to already be on the road home for the holidays.
A snowstorm that delayed her Spanish final by a day left her on campus that fateful Saturday night.
“I was loving college,” Keeler told the AP last month. “I had a great first semester. I would say Shannon was full of life on Dec. 14, 2013.
“You know, I didn’t have a worry in the world.”
Keeler met up with some friends at a frat party, where there was drinking and dancing.
Katayoun Amir-Aslani, then a sophomore from Connecticut, was also at the party. It was there that she met Cleary, then a junior hockey goalie for the Gettysburg Bullets.
“I met this guy. And we started dancing and kissing,” Amir-Aslani told the AP. “But then he grabbed my chest and my crotch and told me he wanted to take me away. And so, I freaked out and told him I needed to go to the bathroom.”
Amir-Aslani ran into Keeler, whom she’d never met before. She asked the 5-foot, 11-inch athlete for help getting rid of the creepy guy who had latched onto her.
Later, after Cleary had left Amir-Aslani alone, he turned his focus on Keeler, who said he was “getting gross” with her on the dance floor. She wasn’t interested.
“He wasn’t getting the hint,” she said. “It was getting creepy. My friend said, ‘Do you want me to walk you home?”
Watch Ian Cleary on the ice below.
Keeler’s male friend walked her across the street to her dorm. Cleary followed them, the young man later told police.
Cleary reportedly offered the student $20 to leave Keeler alone with him.
“He said to my friend, ‘Let me have her. Please, let me have her,’” Keeler told ABC News. “My friend pretty much told him, ‘I’m just trying to get her away from you.’
Keeler said she was safe in her dorm room, preparing for bed shortly before 3 a.m. when she heard a knock on the door. Assuming it was a friend, she opened the door.
It was Cleary.
“He did force himself on me and rape me,” Keeler said. “After he did that, he started crying and said, ‘I’m sorry. Like, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t mean to hurt you? Did I hurt you?’”
As her attacker apologized, Keeler managed to text friends still at the party.
“OMG, please help me,” she begged, according to the arrest warrant in the case.
Keeler said she also responded to Cleary’s weepy questions.
“I said, ‘Yes, you hurt me.’ And then he sprinted out of there,” she told ABC News.
Watch Shannon Keeler talk about her experience below.
After Cleary had fled, four friends — including Amir-Aslani — arrived at the dorm from the frat house to help Keeler, who had to come down from her third-floor dorm room and unlock the door for them.
It was not immediately clear how Cleary had found his way into the locked dorm.
“I will never forget the look on her face when she opened the door for us,” Amir-Aslani told the AP. “It was heartbreaking.”
Upon the urging of her friends and a resident assistant, Keeler went to campus security, who called the Gettysburg Police Department. She underwent hours of questioning and a rape kit at a local hospital.
“Getting that done gave me a sense of false hope,” she said. “I just feel like I was given, throughout this whole process, false hope by the institutions around me that (they) would help me.”
Keeler had never learned Cleary’s name the night of the attack. Witnesses who were at the frat party identified him for authorities.
Cleary denied the allegations against him, but he never returned to Gettysburg after the winter break, the AP reported. When he dropped out, it brought the school’s Title IX investigation into Keeler’s rape to an end.
Keeler said that mere weeks after the sexual assault, Gettysburg’s police chief sent her a letter stating she had 20 days to decide whether to pursue charges. According to the AP, the statute of limitations for rape in Pennsylvania is 12 years.
Even today, the alleged crime remains within that window.
The Keeler family decided to pursue the case, but months went by. A few months after the frat party, Amir-Aslani, who had sought Keeler’s help that night and then returned the favor, was herself sexually assaulted by an acquaintance on campus.
Amir-Aslani, now a 26-year-old artist based in New York City, told the AP she never reported it. Instead, she quietly left Gettysburg College that spring.
“I didn’t have any witnesses, and after the experience I had with Shannon, and nothing happened with her (case), I just (thought), ‘Well, what’s the point of me going through all of this for nothing?’” Amir-Aslani said.
Years passed, and still there was no arrest in Keeler’s case.
In Keeler’s junior year, then-Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner told her it would be difficult to prove her case because she had been drinking the night of the party, she said.
In December 2015, Wagner told Keeler he would not be filing criminal charges against Cleary. The AP reported that the prosecutor gave her the news days after the expiration of the two-year window for Keeler to file a lawsuit against her rapist.
“So, basically, you’re telling me that anybody that rapes a girl in Adams County gets a pass?” Keeler recalled thinking.
Wagner, who is now an Adams County judge, declined comment.
Brian Sinnett, the current Adams County district attorney, declined to speak about the specifics of Keeler’s case but told the AP that charges can be brought only when a case meets the standards needed for a conviction. According to his own records, only 10 rape cases involving adult victims were prosecuted in Adams County between 2013 and 2019.
Gettysburg College’s crime statistics shows a total of 95 rape complaints in that same time frame.
Keeler said last month that she refused to let Cleary win, even as he remained free following the assault. She stayed enrolled at Gettysburg, where she completed her studies in 2017 and, as a senior, helped the lacrosse team take home the Division III national championship.
The lack of justice through the years has not been easy, though. Keeler, who works in computer software sales, was bothered by the fact that despite evidence and witness statements, no charges were ever filed, she told the AP.
“I wasn’t the best version of myself for a few years,” she said. “My anger was more at the criminal justice system than what actually happened.”
Everything changed when she opened Facebook Messenger that summer day last year.
“These messages came to me, and suddenly I had this opportunity to pursue what I always wanted to pursue,” Keeler told ABC News. “And if I can do anything to help make things better for the next women (to) go through this and feel like they can report these to the police, and they will be treated fairly and respectfully, that will be fulfilling to me.”
©2021 Cox Media Group