As the graduate student walked by a dark sport utility vehicle on her way to the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, the men inside the vehicle struck up a conversation with her, asking for directions to North Avenue.
Then a passenger emerged from the parked SUV in the 100 block of W. 29th St. and tried to force the 29-year-old woman into the back seat.
"He grabbed her arm and started to pull her toward the SUV, and threatened her to come with him," said Maj. Michael Pristoop, commander of Baltimore's Northern District.
But the attempted abduction about 9 a.m. Thursday was thwarted by the woman's yells, which attracted two bystanders who rushed to her aid, according to police and university officials. The man got back in the SUV and it sped away down an alley, police said.
Baltimore police and Hopkins officials say the incident is rare - there have been no reports of men in vehicles trying to rob or abduct people in the area - and the motives of the men were not clear.
But the attempted abduction, which occurred on the southern edge of Wyman Park, has sounded a cautionary note in and around the Charles Village area.
"This student did very much the right thing in screaming and calling for help," said Dennis O'Shea, a Hopkins spokesman. "We're also grateful for the two witnesses in the area for calling attention to the incident and running toward the scene."
O'Shea said that Hopkins security officials are working with city police to investigate the incident.
Security at the campus was increased after two students were slain in off-campus incidents in 2004 and 2005. The university has deployed a network of 102 surveillance cameras, increased patrols around campus and tightened access to campus buildings.
Without commenting on specific efforts, O'Shea said campus security officers are "attempting to assist Baltimore's investigation in any way we can."
The attempted abduction was also unusual because of the time it occurred, university and police officials said.
The woman had just parked her car and was walking to the campus when she encountered the men in the SUV, described by police as a black Nissan Murano with tinted windows.
Agent Donny Moses, a police spokesman, said the SUV's route took it south on Mace Street, a nearby alley, and police are hoping to find other witnesses who might have seen the vehicle. The woman had minor scratches to her right arm that didn't require medical attention, he said.
Though the incident did not occur on campus, the university's security officers were busy the past two days passing out fliers around campus and at stores in Charles Village, O'Shea said. He also said the school sent a security bulletin out by e-mail to the Hopkins community.
Pristoop, the Northern District commander, said his detectives are taking this case "very seriously."
"We're going to do everything we can ... to bring closure to this investigation," Pristoop said.
Pristoop said Charles Village has seen a small spike in crime recently, but overall, crime has declined this year. Through June 30, there had been 17 robberies, compared with 37 for the same period last year. There have been 14 aggravated assaults this year, one more than at this time last year, Pristoop said.
Burglaries are also down, with 36 incidents this year compared with 48 at this time last year, Pristoop said. Property crime is down 14 percent while violent crime has dropped 38 percent, he said.
There has been one homicide in the neighborhood this year - a road rage incident between a cabdriver and people in another vehicle. The cabdriver was fatally shot.
In the same period last year, there hadn't been any homicides in the neighborhood, Pristoop said.
In the case of Thursday's attempted abduction, Pristoop released descriptions of the two men in the SUV.
The man who tried to grab the woman was described as a 5-foot 9-inch black male, about 250 pounds, who was in his late 20s or early 30s.
The driver was described as a black male with a dark complexion who was in his 30s and had braids in his hair, police said.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Northern District at 410-396-2455.