Montgomery Co. police charge machete-wielding man with sexual assault, robbery on Md. hiking trail

Montgomery County police released this image of Jose Roberto Hernandez-Penal on May 17. (Courtesy Montgomery County police)

Montgomery County police have charged a man with rape, kidnapping and armed robbery after they say he attacked two women on a Silver Spring, Maryland, hiking trail on Tuesday.

Jose Roberto Hernandez-Penal, 20, of Hyattsville, was charged with first-degree rape, first- and second-degree assault, armed robbery, kidnapping and other weapons-related charges, police announced on Wednesday.

According to police, Hernandez-Penal approached two women who were eating lunch along the Northwest Branch Trail around 2:40 p.m. near Burnt Mills East Park off Columbia Pike, and displayed a machete knife, telling the women he intended to rob them. He stole their belongings, then took one of the women and assaulted her before fleeing the scene, police said.

Hernandez-Penal also assaulted another man after leaving the scene, according to authorities.

The incident sparked a large police presence as they began searching by ground and air for the assailant.

Jose Roberto Hernandez-Penal. (Courtesy Montgomery County police)

About an hour after the assault took place, Lt. Charles Smith with Maryland-National Capital Park Police announced that, in cooperation with Maryland State Police helicopters and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit, they located Hernandez-Penal and took him into custody.

Smith said the county’s police department will take the lead on the investigation into what he is calling an isolated incident.

“This is not something that occurs. Not on a regular basis, not on a monthly basis not even on a yearly basis. It’s very rare,” he said.

Police believe there are additional victims that haven’t reached out to police.

Detectives urge anyone who believes themselves to be a victim to contact Special Victims Investigations Division at (240) 773-5050 or Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Callers can remain anonymous.

This investigation is ongoing.

Ciara Wells

Ciara Wells is a freelance digital writer/editor at WTOP. She is a recent graduate of American University where she studied journalism and Spanish. Before joining WTOP, she was the opinion team editor at a student publication and a content specialist at an HBCU in Detroit.

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