Graduate students' party is crashed

Gunman raises fears -- but little in U.S. cash

March 28, 2004|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

The Friday night party at Fracer Lawrence's Calvert Street rowhouse was, by the host's account, a rollicking good time.

Until, that is, a masked gunman walked through the open front door about 3 a.m. yesterday and robbed the party's 10 revelers of all their money - which barely topped $70 U.S., along with a fair bit of foreign currency, because he crashed a gathering of graduate and international students from the Johns Hopkins University.

"Most of us are more in debt than anything," said Lawrence, 25, an HIV lab researcher at Hopkins who graduated last spring and begins medical school this fall at the University of Chicago. "He just wanted cash."

The robber began his 10-minute home invasion by interrupting the conversation on Zimbabwean politics that Danstan Bagenda was having in the front room with a fellow student.

"I had my back to the door, and she was sitting on the stairs," said Bagenda, 39, a Ugandan enrolled at Hopkins' School of Public Health. "Her expression changed, and I turned and here is this guy with a hood and a Magnum" gun.

According to Bagenda and Lawrence, the robber was a 5-foot-11-inch man weighing about 240 pounds. He was dressed in black and wore a hood over his head and a mask over the lower half of his face.

The robber demanded the wallets of Bagenda and his friend. Many guests, like Bagenda, are students involved in the socially conscious - but not financially lucrative - pursuits of public health and public education. Bagenda produced $20 and 6,000 Ugandan shillings, which is about $3. He also provided 20 Euros, 25 Canadian dollars and some Belgian francs. The other student had no money.

The robber forced the two up the front staircase of the eight-bedroom rowhouse in the 2600 block of N. Calvert St. He encountered another guest on the second floor and took his money.

He then directed the three down the back staircase into the kitchen, where Lawrence and six other unsuspecting guests happily greeted the burst of activity-until they saw the new guest. And his gun. The thief quietly commanded everyone to place their wallets and cell phones onto the kitchen table, Bagenda said.

The thief, who police said has not been caught, repeatedly threatened to shoot anyone who did not cooperate. The most U.S. currency he got from any one guest was $40. One person gave $2.

"I didn't have any money," Lawrence said in an interview at his home where he studied alone last night, reading the textbook Practical Statistics for Medical Research.

The robber forced the group into the basement and threatened to kill anyone who came upstairs. Five minutes passed before one guest realized he had inadvertently kept his cell phone. He called police, Bagenda said, and police arrived about 10 minutes later.

"Everybody's pretty shaken up," Lawrence said. "For most of us it was the first time we'd been robbed at gunpoint."

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