Multiple unidentified individuals, including boys reported to have been as young as 10-years-old, stole and damaged personal items from students’ rooms in Howard Plaza Towers East on Saturday. This comes three days after an unidentified man in a red hoodie entered a student’s room in Towers East, and six days after two unidentified individuals were spotted in the same residence, according to multiple sources.
Students evacuated the residence due to a 10:31 p.m. fire alarm on Sept. 17, and after about 15 to 20 minutes, an officer from Howard’s Department of Public Safety was seen chasing down and eventually wrestling a man dressed in all black in front of McDonald’s on Barry Place NW Street.
Shortly thereafter, another officer walked a boy wearing a cream colored hoodie to the same spot. Both suspects were bent over the hood of a car, handcuffed then made to sit on the sidewalk before being joined by another boy in handcuffs wearing Crocs.
The Hilltop cannot confirm the total number of unidentified individuals spotted in Towers East, however, at least three people were arrested on Saturday night.
Nuha Thaha, 19, a sophomore civil engineering major from the Bronx, NY was one of those robbed. She lives in a ‘single’ on the 10th floor of Towers East and has three suitemates whose items were also stolen and misplaced. None of Thaha’s suitemates were in the room at the time of the robbery.
Thaha was sitting in a friend’s room on the first floor when she saw people sending messages in a Towers East group chat about there being kids on the 10th floor. The messages were encouraging 10th floor residents to lock their doors.
She and her friend decided to go up to her room to lock the door, and on her way up, “Someone called me and said, ‘They’re in your room right now,’” Thaha said.
When she got to the 10th floor and reached her room, a resident next door informed Thaha that three boys had just left her room. “So we checked the staircase, and my suitemate’s stuff are all over the stairs,” Thaha said.
She went back to her room, but left shortly thereafter due to the fire alarm going off. When she got outside, “I saw them,” she said, “one of them had a little scooter… and someone said, ‘Yeah I stole $200 shoes and a bag.’”
In the end, Thaha said, they had stolen her JBL speaker and “about $50.” They also stole her suitemate’s Air Forces and Northface jacket. She went to the police who were standing in front of McDonald’s with three people in custody, and they told her that a duffle bag, an Xbox and an iPad, among other things, were also stolen from the 10th floor.
“I don’t think Howard takes safety as seriously…the fact that security isn’t that good and it’s just causing so much commotion… we shouldn’t have to be dealing with this at all… I feel living off campus is so much safer now,” Thaha said.
“When I was in my room yesterday,” she said, “I was so scared, and I’m alone because all my suitemates are gone, and now I’m scared to just be in here alone, and I don’t want to have that when I’m just a student trying to get my degree here…”
A Howard student, who preferred to remain anonymous out of fear of University retaliation, recounted how his friend’s ninth-floor room was broken into and robbed by the young boys. The student left his bag in his friend’s room as the two were elsewhere outside when the robbery occurred.
The student saw three boys upon entering the McDonald’s on Georgia Ave. who had his bag. “They were sitting down rolling their marijuana…” he said.
The student saw his bag in the McDonald’s laying by the young boys and went to pick it up. That’s when he asked the boys who else had been in the room, suspecting that some had taken his belongings from his bag and left the room.
“They just stole my stuff,” he said. “They went in my stuff, they went in his room, they took my book bag, emptied it out…”
Saturday’s incidents mark the third day in the span of a week that unidentified individuals have been publicly reported to be in Towers East.
On Sept. 14, Tyler Henry, 19, a sophomore mechanical engineering major from Dallas, was doing work in his bed when a man with dreads who wore jeans, a red hat and a red fleece walked into his room.
“He’s belligerent and drunk – he’s like ‘Oh, my fault I didn’t mean to come in here,’ so he just walks out,” Henry said.
Henry described himself as being both confused and angry after the incident occured.
“How could he get past the front desk and then, out of all the rooms – why mine? Since he did get in, that means somebody didn’t care enough to even stop him, or was there even anybody at the front desk at that time?”
Three days before on Sept. 11, Jayla Lawson, 19, a sophomore business management major from Spartanburg, South Carolina, called the Metropolitan Police Department because she didn’t feel safe after learning from the Towers East group chat that unidentified men were knocking on students’ doors on the seventh, eighth and ninth floors.
“There were two of them…I saw the white guy – he was outside with us during the fire drill… he was a very tall skinny white guy with a buzzcut…” Lawson said.
Lawson overheard the descriptions about the other individual, who was Black, from students who were talking to the police that she called.
“They were able to point out that he had on a wife beater, blood on his shirt, blood on his face, had on a gold chain and gold teeth,” she said.
“I was just really anxious hearing all this stuff,” Lawson said, “and all this stuff happening just really threw me off guard, but I think afterward, I really honestly felt irritated because I just feel like this is another situation while I’m at Howard when my life is put in danger… I really hate that I’m living in a situation where I don’t really know if I’m ever safe.”
When individuals enter Towers Plaza, they are asked to show their student identification cards by a person sitting at the front desk or by a security guard. However, there is concern from numerous students that this does not happen all the time, and that the Towers have emergency exit side doors in which people can enter the residences virtually unchecked. Students also question whether or not the security cameras at the side of the residences work properly.
When Officer Aubrey Elliot, 24, started his job at Towers East on Sept. 16 as a security guard, he was checking people for student identification cards as they walked into the residence. His job was to secure, observe and report as a security guard at the front desk of the residence, and he is the first one to hold this position.
“I have been informed that the basic thing that I’m supposed to do right now is just monitor the front door for the first part of my shift. Second half of my shift when it calms down and there’s less activity and the front desk is not as stressed or backed up…I just make sure all doors are secure and I just monitor.”
“But,” he said in regards to the side doors, “there’s no job for somebody to walk around and pay attention to that.”
Director of Operations, Strategy and Communications Jarrett Carter emphasized how campus safety is a top priority for the Howard University Department of Public Safety (DPS) while also calling for students to adhere to residence rules regarding the use of emergency side doors to prevent further unauthorized entry.
“That is a problem that keeps happening – residents leave [out of] doors that are not cleared for exit other than a fire, and people walk in. That has to stop,” he said, “There is no apparatus DPS has to block a fire exit, nor would we because that’s illegal…”
As of Friday, Elliot said that Howard’s campus police are getting started with enhancing security at the Towers to where someone in his position might be patrolling the residence as opposed to being stationed at the front desk.
The case investigation is now closed by DPS, according to Carter.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee
[CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect anonymity for a source as well as clarity on the location in which a student’s belongings were retrieved.]