Hopkins student is stabbed by intruder

Police think man entered door left open after party

April 18, 2004|By Laurie Willis and Gus G. Sentementes | Laurie Willis and Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

A Johns Hopkins University student was in critical condition last night after being stabbed by an intruder early yesterday in a house occupied by fraternity members in the 2900 block of St. Paul St.

Christopher Elser, 20, a junior from Camden, S.C., was assaulted about 6 a.m. in the 10-unit apartment house rented to members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Police believe it was a random attack by someone who gained entry to the three-story building through a rear door that had been left open after a party.

Elser, a member of Hopkins' soccer team during his freshman year, was stabbed once in the chest and in the left arm, said Sgt. Cliff McWhite, a homicide detective. Elser underwent surgery at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"It looks like whoever came in, that was the first room he went to, and he was startled to find someone there," McWhite said. "A brief struggle may have ensued, at which time [Elser] was stabbed."

In an e-mail to students, faculty and staff at Hopkins' Homewood campus, Susan Boswell, dean of student life, said Elser managed to get to a neighboring bedroom, where another fraternity member helped control his bleeding until an ambulance arrived.

Police and Hopkins officials estimated that 15 to 20 people were in the house when the attack occurred.

Elser is a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon but lives in another off-campus building, according to Dennis O'Shea, a Hopkins spokesman. Elser had gone to the house for a party Friday and decided to stay overnight after "trading rooms for the night" with a fraternity brother who wanted a quiet place to study for exams, O'Shea said.

The party, attended by as many as 200 students, broke up about 4 a.m., McWhite said. The stabbing of Elser two hours later shocked his fraternity brothers, the university and Charles Village residents.

"The entire university is deeply affected by this terrible crime," Hopkins President William R. Brody said yesterday after visiting Shock Trauma. "The important thing now is to do everything we can to take care of Chris and support his family and many friends, and we are going to do that."

For 17 years, Dawna Cobb, 48, has lived behind the Charles Village house on the southwest corner of 30th and St. Paul streets.

"Home invasions happen, but home invasions with violence? I haven't heard of it," Cobb said. "The violent crime that's occurred in the neighborhood has occurred in the streets at night, but nothing like this."

McWhite said it was an isolated incident. "Nothing like this ever happened there before that we have a record of," he said. "It was an just an opportunity, with the door wide open, but we don't know if he was preying on them because they were college students."

Police are hoping Elser will be able to describe his attacker, McWhite said, adding that no one else in the building saw the man. Hopkins officials said Elser's parents and other relatives arrived in Baltimore yesterday afternoon.

McWhite and other city officers spent several hours at the house yesterday collecting evidence and interviewing students. Campus security officers were also on hand - they had stopped by the party several times during the night, he said.

"They assisted us by just calming the students down, being a familiar face," McWhite said. "The kids are a little shaken up. To go from having a good time at a party to having one of their fraternity brothers being assaulted, that's rough for anyone."

O'Shea said a representative of Hopkins' counseling service was also at the scene to assist the students, who were later taken to police headquarters for interviews.

Chris Walcutt, a board member of the group that rents the house to the fraternity's members, said yesterday that burglaries have been a recurring problem. "Basically, every time the students are away, it gets broken into," Walcutt said.

He said the house, which is not rented as or considered a fraternity house by zoning standards, has a fire alarm but no security system. In the aftermath of the stabbing, Hopkins' security officers have offered to make recommendations on how to best protect it, Walcutt said.

As police conducted their investigation, friends of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members milled about the front lawn. Among them was Chris Miller, a 22-year-old senior who described Elser as a "great guy" and hard worker. "He's a funny, sociable guy that everyone loves to be around," Miller said.

"I find Chris to be a very nice young man," Boswell said. "He's a well-liked junior, liked and respected by his peers. People think highly of him."

Matthew Smith, Hopkins soccer coach, said Elser played defender and midfielder as a freshman. "He's a pretty good soccer player, and his freshman year he did well," Smith said.

There was a moment of silence in Elser's honor before last night's lacrosse game against the University of Maryland.

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