Ashley Bonanno was just a few blocks from her Thurston Hall room when she heard someone running up behind her.
Walking home alone from work, the freshman quickly realized a man was approaching her, and he wanted her purse. When she struggled for it, he raised his fist and told her to let go. He grabbed the bag and took off running.
Though the man was apprehended by a witness and taken into custody by the Metropolitan Police Department, Bonanno was shaken up.
“Right after that happened I started freaking out and crying because it was so overwhelming,” Bonanno said.
And she is likely not the only member of the GW community to have that experience in the past few weeks. Bonanno was unhurt and recovered her purse, but there have been several “snatch” robberies on or near campus that put residents in similar situations.
On Feb. 19, a male snatched a professor’s laptop from the table in front of him in the Starbucks in Gelman Library, according to an MPD report. Just five days later, a student walking near the 1957 E Street academic building put her bag down to adjust her scarf, when a man grabbed it and ran, police reports state.
A week earlier, a student walking while listening to an iPod near the intersection of 24th Street and New Hampshire Avenue was pushed to the ground and robbed. At least two robberies have occurred at the GW Hospital and a woman’s bag was stolen from the back of her chair at a Subway only a few blocks from campus. All of these crimes have all occurred within the last month.
MPD 2nd District Commander Matthew Klein said this type of crime is not out of the ordinary. MPD data shows a small increase in snatch-type robberies in the area – from two in January to six in February – but the recent incidents have prompted GW safety officials to send out three crime alerts warning that “robberies and thefts, including pick-pocket and purse-snatch incidents, typically increase with warmer weather.”
Klein said there are several precautions students can take.
“Walk in larger groups because purse snatchers will typically target lone females,” Klein said. “And if you are approached by someone who is trying to take your purse or any other property, just give it to them and immediately call the police with the best description you can possibly give.”
But traveling in groups and finding transportation is not always feasible. To stay safe, even when alone, University Police Chief Dolores Stafford said the most important thing a student can do is to be aware of his or her surroundings.
“You need to pay attention to who and what is around you – in front of you, beside you and behind you. If someone is encroaching upon your personal space when walking behind you, stop and let them pass you if they are making you feel uncomfortable,” Stafford wrote in an e-mail. “Always look them in the eye, which is a sign that you are aware of their presence.”
And though it might not be first preference for students walking the streets, Stafford also recommends putting away distracting devices – like iPods and cell phones – that may draw unwanted attention.
“Wearing an iPod after hours is a sign that you are not paying attention,” Stafford said. “During the day the best option is to put an earphone in one ear.”