Shannon Keeler, now 26, had pushed for authorities to investigate the case for years

By Jeff Truesdell
June 30, 2021 05:17 PM
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Shannon Keeler
Shannon Keeler
| Credit: Chris Carlson/AP/Shutterstock

For seven years, Shannon Keeler tried and failed to convince authorities to arrest the man she accused of raping her as an 18-year-old college freshman in Pennsylvania in 2013.

Then last year, she spotted a message sent to her from the alleged assailant through Facebook.

"So I raped you," it said.

"I'll never do it to anyone ever again," another message promised.

On Tuesday, five weeks after Keeler went public and shared her story with the Associated Press, Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett filed an arrest warrant naming the suspect as Ian Cleary, and charging the 28-year-old California man with sexual assault.

"While I am moved to tears by this result, which I have waited for (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, now 26, said in a statement shared with PEOPLE through her lawyer, Laura Dunn.

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Police reopened the case after Keeler alerted them to the online messages, which authorities then linked to Cleary's Facebook account and a matching cell phone number, according to the affidavit of probable cause obtained by PEOPLE.

That affidavit alleges that Keeler walked home to her dorm with a friend from a party at Gettysburg College on Dec. 15, 2013, at which a "kid" had been "creeping her out." The kid -- later identified as Cleary -- allegedly followed, and after offering Keeler's friend $20 to leave the two of them alone, was shooed away.

But 10 minutes later Keeler said she heard a knock on the door and opened it, expecting to see another friend, according to the affidavit. The affidavit alleges it was Cleary, saying he walked in, began kissing Keeler and then assaulted her.

Before the attack occurred, Keeler texted friends, "Help please" and "OMG please Help me," the affidavit states.

Keeler says she reported the incident to police, underwent testing with a rape kit, and produced witnesses who had seen the suspect, an upperclassman. But no charges were brought and she was told her case eventually was closed.

In December 2019, her Facebook Messenger inbox received several messages over two days.

"I need to hear your voice," said the first one. "I need to know if I did it or not."

"I kissed you. I grabbed your breasts. Then I tried to but I couldn't because I was high. Then I had to catch a plane. That's why I ran."

"I played with you but I didn't penetrate you."

"So I raped you."

"I'll never do it to anyone again."

Keeler, who didn't discover the messages for months, took them to the district attorney's office in May 2020.

"The only reason we're here today is because Ian Cleary confessed in writing," Dunn tells PEOPLE. "That's what it took before a prosecutor was willing to bring this case. And even then maybe we did a whole year before bringing these charges. So why does Shannon Keeler have to wait? The answer is, she shouldn't have."

"The criminal justice system should have cared the day she was raped," she says. "They should have put all their energy and resources towards prosecuting Ian Cleary and it's on them, that we have had to wait this long and have this much compelling evidence before action was taken."

The decision by Keeler to grant the AP an interview about her case "was a strategic choice because we weren't getting anywhere waiting with the prosecutor's office or cooperating with police," says her attorney. "It was time for her to go public and put pressure on the district attorney's office to do the right thing in this case. And survivors shouldn't have to do that in order to get justice, but she had to, and we're thankful that the district attorney has heard her case, will be on it and prosecuting it, and has issued an arrest warrant."

In a statement announcing the arrest warrant, the district attorney's office said it would have no further comment "until the defendant is apprehended."

PEOPLE was not able to reach Cleary.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.