(Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore…)
New to Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University freshman Raegan Hensley and her parents were headed to Target on Thursday to buy supplies, including pepper spray and a pocket knife. And that was before they heard about the armed robbery of four female students late Wednesday night next to the Homewood campus.
News of the holdup, in which no one was hurt, reinforced her parents' desire to boost Hensley's defenses. "Obviously we're doing the right thing," Greg England said, standing outside Wolman Hall dormitory, where blaring music and bunches of balloons gave a party feel as new students moved in.
While Hensley found the robbery alarming, the 18-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., added: "I knew I was going to Baltimore. It can be pretty dangerous at times."
The late-night robbery on North Charles Street comes after a rash of robberies in North Baltimore in recent weeks that hit many people carrying smartphones. Earlier this month, three teenagers and an adult were arrested in connection with those incidents, and police said they are treating Wednesday's holdup as an isolated event.
Hopkins officials tried to inform and reassure students and parents. The university issued a campus security alert early Thursday morning, discussed the incident at orientation meetings for parents and raised it again in a welcome-back email to students.
The email said Hopkins put extra security patrols on the street and that Baltimore police were beefing up patrols in the Charles Village area near campus. It also mentioned the earlier rash of robberies.
"But these are crimes of opportunity; they most often take minutes or even seconds to complete, and there is no guarantee that an officer will be right on the spot if a robber should happen upon you," said the email from Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin G. Shollenberger and Daniel G. Ennis, a senior vice president for finance and administration.
They listed several tips: Stay off the streets late at night or take campus shuttles. If walking, do so in groups and in busy, lighted areas. Be alert in "such an obvious way that a potential robber might decide to move on and try to find someone else." Don't openly use or carry cellphones or other electronics.
Police said the four women were walking in the 3500 block of N. Charles St. about 11:40 p.m. when they were accosted by two men wearing hooded sweatshirts, one of whom pointed a handgun at the group. The robbers took cellphones, money and other items.
The Hopkins alert said the pair ran to a small, dark vehicle and drove the wrong way on one-way Greenway toward University Parkway. The alert said both men wore black bandannas over their faces.
The Hopkins email praised the women — two sophomores and two juniors — for complying with the robbers' demands.
Alex McLaughlin, a freshman from Princeton, N.J., said he wasn't "terribly alarmed" because "it's a city and stuff like that happens in cities." But his mother, Julie, called it "really concerning."
Mary Kate Turner, an 18-year-old from Miami, said before she chose to attend Hopkins last spring, current students assured her there were many pluses to Baltimore. "That's scary it happened with four people," she said. "I'll definitely be more careful now."
Her parents wondered if the robbers targeted Hopkins students because of the start of a new school year. As her mother, Elizabeth Turner, put it, "There's fresh blood in town."