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Detroit — A gang of sexual predators struck twice Thursday night, police said, when in separate instances it forced couples into alleys at gunpoint, and then raped the women while the men were forced to watch.

Police believe the same group may be responsible for a third incident July 11 that featured similar circumstances.

Both of Thursday’s assaults happened in the 13000 block of West McNichols, just west of the Lodge Freeway on the city’s west side, Deputy Chief Charles Fitzgerald said.

“It’s horrifying,” he said. “You try to teach people to walk in pairs, and (the victims) did.”

The first incident happened at about 10 p.m. A 21-year-old female and 22-year-old male were walking when they were approached by six men, who were also on foot, Fitzgerald said.

“One of the suspects produced a gun, pointed it at both victims and advised them to go to an alley,” he said. “Both victims complied. They were forced to the ground.

“The male victim was forced to watch the female victim get sexually assaulted. Their clothing was taken.”

Less than two hours later, in the same area, two men approached a 19-year-old female and 21-year-old male and at gunpoint ordered them into a nearby alley, where they raped the woman while the man was forced to watch. Their clothing was also taken, Fitzgerald said.

“The suspects then fled on foot and were seen near a blue Ford SUV,” Fitzgerald said.

The two instances are thought to be connected, Fitzgerald said. He said it was unclear whether they drove the blue SUV.

Suspect one in Thursday’s incidents was described as a 5-foot, 8-inch-tall male in his early 20s, with a medium complexion, mustache and goatee. He wore a dark blue Polo jogging suit with a red emblem.

Suspect two in the July 11 incident was described as a 5-foot, 8-inch male with a light complexion, 21 years old and 200 pounds with a mustache, beard and goatee. He wore a black hoodie and black jogging pants, and was armed with a handgun.

Suspect three in the July 11 incident was described as an approximately 6-foot-tall male, early 20s, in a black hoodie, black jogging pants and white Air Jordan shoes.

Fitzgerald warned residents to be cautious.

“Use your sixth sense,” he said. “If something doesn’t feel right, run to a nearby store or something.”

Sgt. Cassandra Lewis said police aren’t certain if the third incident is connected, although the circumstances were the same.

Anyone with information about the assaults is asked to call Crime Stoppers of Michigan at (800) SPEAK-UP.

As police work to solve the latest sexual assaults, investigators continue to whittle away at a backlog of untested rape kits found in 2009 in a Detroit Police Department property storage facility.

Roughly 10,000 of the 11,341 kits, some dating to 1984, have been tested, with 2,227 DNA matches as of June 22, according to the Wayne County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force. A Department of Justice study found a lack of funding and other resources, and police attitudes toward victims, contributed to the backlog.

Among the matches are 456 serial rapists as of June 30, up from 326 across 32 states earlier last month, according to information on the task force released Thursday by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. There have been 20 convictions as of June 30, according to the task force.

There are 114 cases being investigated and 732 are awaiting investigation. The remaining backlogged rape kits are expected to be completed by the fall, the task force has said.

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