Three girls initially shrugged off their fourth roommate who had just entered their second floor apartment crying. The roommate had been having “boy trouble” and it didn’t startle the others who were hanging out in a bedroom on the third floor.
But a few words changed all of that.
“We actually sat there for a good two minutes then we heard her scream, ‘Just don’t hurt any of us, don’t hurt me, we’re good people, just take everything,” said Katie, a senior nursing major, who requested her last name not be published at the direction of the District Attorney’s Office. “We all went to go down to the kitchen to see her…and there were two guys just standing there.”
Over the next few minutes, Katie and her roommates were bound and robbed as armed men searched their apartment.
“We heard duct tape and looked at each other and that’s when we lost it and all started crying thinking we were going to be raped, or beat. We just didn’t know,” she said. “They laid us face down and had our hands and our feet together. They said, ‘Give us 30 minutes. If you don’t give us 30 minutes, we know where you live, we’ll come back and kill you.’”
Though none of the four roommates were physically hurt, the armed robbery is the latest in a series of high profile incidents during the past few years near Main Campus that illustrate Temple’s safety conundrum.
Crime maps indicate that in the last 30 days, at least eight robberies have occurred in or on the border of Temple’s patrol area and at least another eight have been reported in the area just outside it.
From September 2011 to September 2012, more than 50 robberies were reported on the Main Campus crime log, according to a review by The Temple News.
Deputy Director of Campus Safety Services Charlie Leone said robbery is the most prevalent violent crime in the area near Main Campus.
“Our biggest issue is with the phones,” Leone said. “A good majority [of robberies] are strong-armed and involve phones.”
Junior criminal justice major Thai Do said his phone was taken when he was the victim of a home invasion in late September 2012 at his apartment near 18th Street and Susquehanna Avenue.
“I wake up and open my door and I realize that someone’s in my house that I’ve never met before,” Do said. “I get shoved by this guy, and that’s when I realize, ‘Oh no, I’m being robbed.’”
Do said he slammed the door shut and grabbed a knife before going to check on his roommates. He found one of his roommates tied up in his room with a phone cable, arms down on his back and a pillow over his head.
As students move farther into the neighborhood, CSS has increasingly been challenged by a growing number of students who live outside of its patrol area. The university has invested in adding Philadelphia Police officers west of campus where a high number of students reside. Temple’s western patrol area ends at 16th Street.
“We try to keep our campus safe, we try to go outside our campus and we have Philadelphia to try to help us augment some of those areas [off campus],” Leone said.
“We had to make adjustments and it does make it more of a challenge,” Leone added. “But that’s part of the growth [of Temple] and we understand that that’s why we work with Philadelphia.”
Although most students living far off of campus take public transit, Leone said, Temple created the TUr Door shuttle to alleviate the amount of students walking to nearby apartments late at night.
“We found that a majority of the students living in a four or five block radius of campus are probably walking home,” Leone said. “We came up with TUr Door in response to that so that students who are staying at campus late at night can just go jump on the shuttle and have it go right to their door.”
Leone said it was “ironic” that the robbery occurred on 18th Street because a few weeks prior to it, CSS met with Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel, who said 20 new officers were being assigned to the district and a number of bicycle officers would be redirected into the area near Temple.
“It looks like we reacted to [the home invasion], but it was something that was preplanned,” Leone said.
Aside from the physical presence of city police, CSS has relied more on informing students through social media and emails about safety precautions. Katie said she hopes people are more informed in their neighborhoods because of the crime.
“People should be more aware of what’s going on,” she said. “We’re in a rough area, we choose to live there. I don’t blame Temple, I don’t blame Philadelphia, I do feel like this could have happened anywhere. I just want people to be more aware of what’s going on.”
Computers, cash, credit cards and cell phones were taken from the girls’ apartment. Katie, who said she had never felt threatened living off campus, said she and her roommates would continue to stay at the apartment since all four are seniors and will graduate in May.
“We just never felt like any of this could happen to us,” she said.
Since the March 4 home invasion, two of the three suspects – Tyree Johnson, 19, and Malcolm Murray, 18, both of North Philadelphia – have been arrested and charged with aggravated assault, robbery, false imprisonment and related offenses.
The third suspect, 24-year-old Elijah Washington, is still at large. Police said last week that he may be in the area near the Wilson Park Housing Development, at 25th and Jackson streets in South Philadelphia, or in Southwest Philadelphia, near 52nd and Pentridge streets.
CSS is working with Philadelphia to prevent anything approaching the level of what the roommates experienced.
“It was a horrific thing that happened and we try to do everything possible to prevent those things from happening,” Leone said. “We just wanted to come out full throttle to keep it from happening again.”
Sean Carlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84.
Angelo Fichera and Ali Watkins contributed to this report.