Robbers target Tulane students

The first week of classes at Tulane University is typically marked by reconnecting with friends and the brimming optimism of a new semester, but three students have endured a much more dour introduction to the school year: They were robbed, two of them at gunpoint.

Tulane University Police reported that three armed robberies were committed within blocks of campus this week, leaving students unnerved and causing police to further emphasize safety measures.

Police said that on Wednesday a woman was walking in the 2100 block of State Street just after 1 a.m. when she was approached by a black man wearing a ski mask. The suspect reached under his shirt, motioning as if he had a weapon, before shoving the woman to the ground and stealing her purse.

On Friday and Saturday nights, armed men forced students to hand over their keys and then stole their cars.

A Tulane medical student was approached Friday by three black men at approximately 11:20 p.m. in the 8000 block of Spruce Street.

One man pointed a black revolver at the student and demanded his keys before the suspects fled in the victim’s white Mazda 3 with Texas license plate DD3M599.

On Saturday just before 9 p.m., a student was approached in the 7700 block of Jeanette Street by two black men, one of whom brandished a black handgun. The suspects drove away in the victim’s 2007 gray Honda Civic Coupe with Louisiana license plate RHU031.

Police have yet to make arrests or name any suspects in the incidents. Tulane University Police Superintendent Jon Barnwell said the back-to-school crime spree isn’t out of the norm and that criminals have identified Tulane students as easy targets.

“When you have a population that is unfamiliar with the New Orleans area, that may not even realize what’s going on within the metropolitan area, with that comes the opportunity for people to be attracted to that target population,” Barnwell said.

Barnwell said that more than 10,000 students returned to campus last week, including more than 1,600 incoming freshman.

He said the university is committed to protecting the welfare of its students, which is one of the reasons the Police Department has expanded its jurisdiction to cover off-campus crimes that occur within the vicinity of the university.

Barnwell said that Tulane also provides nighttime shuttles and escorts any time a student feels unsafe.

He added that a new program called Rave Guardian provides students with a virtual escort. Students can call a number and enter in the length of time they believe it will take for them to walk to a certain location. If they don’t call back to deactivate the alarm, an automatic emergency alert will be triggered at the Police Department.

Crime has been a persistent issue at Tulane over the last few years, and the start of school has been marred by armed robberies in the past.

In the first weekend of the 2011 school year, seven students were robbed of their cellphones and other belongings in two separate armed robberies on Lowerline Street, according to reporting in the Uptown Messenger.

In 2012, a student-led group called It’s Not Enough demanded the university take additional measures to combat crime such as an increased police protection and more crime alerts.

“As Tulane students, we have been conditioned to operate in an atmosphere of fear,” a petition circulated by the group read.