Home invasion near Temple heightens concerns

Posted: March 06, 2013

It's a parent's nightmare.

And four Temple University students lived it Monday night, when three armed men forced their way inside an off-campus apartment in North Philadelphia, bound the women in duct tape, and fled with computer equipment, cellphones, credit cards, and cash.

The students were not physically hurt. But the incident revived fears of dangers that lurk near the city's campuses, and offered an unsettling echo of incidents in which armed men invaded students' apartments near Temple and Drexel University.

"I can just honestly say I am thankful for my life and my roommates' lives. Computers, phones, and material things can be replaced but we can't," one of the victims posted on Twitter.

Philadelphia police records show eight armed robberies have occurred in the last 30 days in the area where Temple police respond to priority calls - Eighth to 17th Streets and Dauphin to Master Streets. Monday's home invasion falls just outside that area, as do three other armed robberies.

Charlie Leone, deputy director of campus security, said most of the incidents are not on campus but in a broader area where campus police can respond to emergencies.

Some Temple students interviewed Tuesday said they felt comfortable off-campus, while others had begun to consider whether on-campus housing might be safer.

"I think after this, after seeing what could happen, it definitely worries me," freshman Sarah Holland said.

Philadelphia police Tuesday released video footage of the three men who invaded the apartment on 18th Street near Berks Street about 7:30 p.m. The men, all carrying guns, followed a student home and forced her inside her second-floor apartment, where she and three roommates were bound with duct tape. After the men fled, the woman freed her roommates and called 911, police said.

A Temple advisory issued at 9:14 p.m. notified students of the incident and urged them to be cautious.

Junior Michael Barnett, who lives in a first-floor apartment of the same building, said he knew robberies were a possibility when he moved in.

"You have to prepare for the worst but pray for the best," said Barnett, who intends to continue living there. "You always have to be alert."

Junior Kaitlyn McCarthy, who lives in off-campus housing near 18th and Berks, said she had been mugged on Diamond Street. Monday's incident "just heightens that awareness" that robbers will target students, especially females, she said.

Temple tries to alert students to potential risks and promote safety, university spokesman Ray Betzner said. During orientation and during the year, Temple instructs students about being "city smart," Betzner said. A lot of that information is basic: Don't walk alone. Don't walk with your iPod showing. Don't use shortcuts. If you feel unsafe, leave that area immediately and contact campus security.

Citywide, about 5,000 students live on campus and 5,000 live elsewhere, Betzner said. The university is building a 1,300-bed residence hall - the largest in its history - to allow more students to live on campus, and a couple of years ago, it began paying city police to increase patrols in student areas.

Betzner said campus security meets weekly with city police and in the aftermath of Monday's robbery will talk to district police leaders to see if new crime patterns are emerging and, if so, what the response should be.

Temple students were buzzing Tuesday about the latest incident.

Brad McDermott, a freshman, lives two blocks from where the women were victimized. "I know what I'm getting myself into," he said, adding that Temple police should consider patrolling a larger area.

Students said they see bike police as a big source of protection for off-campus students.

"I try not to go anywhere alone," said Kelly Silver, a junior who last year lived on 18th Street. "I just go in the area where they [bike police] are."

She said shuttle buses are available to take students to off-campus locations after 5 p.m.

Junior Michael Clementi said he never worries when he's walking home late at night.

"Once there was a couple fighting, and a bike cop saw and called police, and they were there in a minute," Clementi said. His only concern is that some areas seen as less dangerous could be better patrolled.

Contact Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415, jgammage@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @JeffGammage.

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers John Duchneskie, Susan Snyder, and Hillary Siegel.

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