Ruth George was walking alone to her car in a parking garage at the University of Illinois at Chicago early Saturday when a man began following and catcalling her. As many women do, the 19-year-old honor roll student ignored him. But that's when the situation turned deadly.
Prosecutors said the man, Donald Thurman, got angry that he was being ignored and followed George to her car, came up from behind, and put her in a chokehold. He then allegedly threw her in the backseat of her car while she was unconscious and sexually assaulted her.
George’s family grew worried when she did not return home and reported their concerns to University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) police. Tracing her cellphone to the parking garage, George’s sisters and UIC police found her body in the backseat. She died from strangulation, a medical examiner said.
Thurman was arrested on Sunday and charged with first-degree murder and aggravated sexual assault. The 26-year-old was released last December after serving two years of a six-year prison sentence for armed robbery, UIC police said.
A judge ordered Thurman to be held without bail on Tuesday.
During the hearing, Cook County prosecutors described the chilling circumstances that led to George’s death.
Thurman, who saw George walking to the UIC parking garage at around 1:25 a.m. on Saturday, “thought she was pretty” and tried talking to her, prosecutors said in court documents provided to BuzzFeed News.
While ignoring Thurman's catcalls and efforts to talk to her, George walked to her car, which is when she was allegedly put in a chokehold.
With his arms still around George’s neck, Thurman allegedly dragged her from the ground and threw her in the backseat. She was unconscious, when Thurman raped her, prosecutors said.
When George’s sisters and UIC police found her body, she was cold and unresponsive. Her sisters tried to resuscitate her, but she was pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities also recovered a condom and semen in the car.
Surveillance camera footage showed Thurman, wearing a “distinguishable white jacket,” following George into the parking garage and running away from it 35 minutes later, authorities said.
On Sunday, Thurman was spotted in the area and arrested.
He admitted to choking George, throwing her in the car, and sexually assaulting her when she was unconscious, but “denied having sexual intercourse with her,” prosecutors said.
In a statement to the Chicago Tribune, George’s mother said her daughter “lived out her deep faith in Jesus by loving and serving others.”
“She was the beloved baby of our family. We grieve with hope," the statement said. "We hold no hatred towards the perpetrator, but our hope is no other girl would be harmed in this way and for a mother to never experience this type of heartache."
George, who was known to her friends as “Ruthie,” was one of those people who “can light up a room,” Michele McCrillis, the Honors College assistant dean, said in a UIC tribute to the student.
“We will never forget how big her smile was when she was named ‘Rangi Mtoto’ or Baby Color,” the Delta Epsilon Mu fraternity, which George joined in 2018, said in a statement. “That was the perfect name for her because she brought color into the lives of everyone around her.”
A GoFundMe campaign organized by the fraternity to help George’s family with funeral arrangements and other costs had raised more than $15,000 as of Wednesday.
“Although the days are feeling dark as we grieve and mourn, Ruth is the light that will shine on you when needed,” the fraternity said.
Her peers and professors described her as a driven, talented, and engaged student with dreams of becoming a physical therapist and helping others.
“But it’s her smile that I remember, and will miss, the most,” McCrillis said.