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Viral Auto Theft Trend Hits Howard Campus, Three Students’ Cars Stolen, Vandalized

The backseat of Destiny Thompson’s car after being recovered. Photo Courtesy of Destiny Thompson.

Last Tuesday morning, Destiny Thompson woke up and readied herself to attend her 9:40 statics class and take her exam, when suddenly she noticed her car was missing. 

Thompson, a 19-year-old junior civil engineering major and mathematical minor from Bridgeton, New Jersey, recalled almost immediately calling Washington, D.C. tow companies to see if they had her car, only to learn that none of their cars matched the description of hers. 

“So, they didn’t have my car,” Thompson said. “So I knew that it was taken, so I called the cops.” 

Thomspon’s auto-theft case is amongst a string of at least three reported cars stolen on or near Howard University’s campus this year, according to Howard’s crime alerts. Her auto theft occurred less than 24 hours after another car, a gray 2021 Kia Seltos, had been stolen on the 2700 block of 6th St. NW on Feb. 20, according to a crime alert sent from Howard University’s Department of Public Safety (DPS).  

According to a Feb. 21 crime alert sent from DPS at 11:55 a.m., Thompson’s silver 2018 Hyundai Elantra had been stolen between 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 20 and 9:40 a.m on Feb. 21. The auto-theft was reported to have taken place in the 2200 block of Georgia Avenue NW, in front of Axis at Howard.

Upon the arrival of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and DPS officers that morning, Thompson was questioned about the details of her stolen car, and officers carried on with their inspection of the incident. 

Later that day at around 2 p.m., Thompson was alerted by her friends and local authorities that her car had been spotted in front of Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library (LSHL) on Bryant Street NW.  

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“When I got up there, it was just destroyed inside and out, vandalized,” she said. “My stuff was stolen. Just a bunch of unfortunate events, let’s just say. My tire was off its rim. My window was broken and they taped it up. My seats were cut up.”

Among the forms of vandalization, Thompson reported shards of broken glass on the back of her seat as well as detergent, leftover food and a burnt dashboard and display. She also reported missing chargers and missing items from the trunk of her car. 

One detail that stuck out to Thompson, however, was the position of the driver’s seat.

“And you could tell it was a kid that was driving because when I got to the scene, my seat was all the way up to the steering wheel…,” she said.

According to Thompson, the MPD and DPS were already present near her car in front of LSHL when Thompson arrived and later left while Thompson was on the phone with her insurance company. 

Destiny Thompson’s broken car window taped up. Photo Courtesy of Thompson.

Thompson said that a few moments after they left, she saw a white Hyundai driving in the wrong direction on the same one-way street where her vandalized car was found. The vehicle was being driven by individuals she estimated to be between the ages of 11 and 15 years old. 

Thompson said that the children hopped out of the vehicle while shouting profanity at her and her friends and approached her car to retrieve a drill, which Thompson assumed was the same one used to vandalize her car. Shortly afterward they drove away in the white Hyundai. 

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Thompson said that the police arrived approximately fifteen minutes later to gather fingerprints and further evidence. 

Thompson described the moment as feeling helpless and like there was nothing more she could do, although she commended herself for keeping her composure.

“I’m just very glad I kept my composure and didn’t lash out at these kids like I would’ve wanted to because the damage was already done,” she said. “So, I was devastated.” 

According to Thompson, the estimated value of her car was around $19,000. She has been relying on public transportation and walking as her means of transportation since the incident. She is awaiting a response from her insurance company in terms of searching for a new car. Her insurance, however, was able to cover the damages from the vandalization but there will be no compensation for the stolen items. 

Thompson is not the only Howard student who has become a victim of car theft. Just a few days before her car was stolen, sophomore Maurion Davis’ Hyundai Sonata also went missing.

Davis, a management major, political science minor from Cleveland, Ohio, had his car stolen between 8 p.m. and 11:10 p.m. on Feb. 17, according to a crime alert sent from DPS. His white 2017 Hyundai Sonata was reportedly stolen in the 2700 block of 6th St. NW, outside Cook Hall.

Davis described feeling upset about what he describes to be a lack of response from authorities to the recent auto-thefts that have taken place on or around campus. 

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“And the fact that we are letting little kids come on to our campus and steal, vandalize, threaten and harm our students is not okay, not okay at all,” he said. 

According to his LinkedIn post, Davis used his car as a way to make money from Doordash. His car was gifted to him for graduating high school summa cum laude and in the top 10 of his class. 

Jurnee Jessie, a junior international affairs major from Pennsylvania was another student who had their vehicle stolen. Her Nissan Altima was stolen over Superbowl weekend by “a few younger kids” early in the morning. Jessie did not immediately follow up with The Hilltop for additional details. 

Director of Operations, Strategy and Communications Jarrett Carter refrained from sharing any specific details on either case to avoid “compromising” any ongoing investigations.

He did, though, confirm a trend of stolen Kias and Hyundais around campus.  

“From what we can tell, the cars that have been reported to us as being stolen at least on and around campus have been Kias and Hyundais,” he said. “So we believe that this is tied directly to those videos that are circling online – the ‘Kia Challenge.’” 

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According to CNBC, the Kia challenge is a viral TikTok trend that challenges teens to steal cars off the street by breaking into the car, popping off the steering wheel column and hot-wiring the vehicle using a USB cable.

This spike in auto thefts is not exclusive to the Howard area. Overall, D.C. has noticed a significant increase in auto theft. According to MPD, more than 1,000 cars in D.C. have been stolen this year as of Feb. 24, and the number of auto thefts has increased by 22 percent since 2022. 

Alaina Gertz, MPD’s Public Affairs Specialist, attributes this spike in auto thefts to a general increase in the opportunity for them to be stolen. 

“Motor vehicle theft is a crime of opportunity. MPD is seeing many vehicles on the road left unattended that unfortunately presents more opportunities for thieves,” Gertz said.

According to a WUSA9 article, Kias and Hyundais made up 31 percent of auto thefts in DC within the first three weeks of the year. MPD said that any Hyundai or Kia vehicle that operates with a metal or steel key is impacted by a system flaw that is being exploited by thieves. 

The two car brands have also accounted for all three of the auto theft crime alerts around Howard’s campus within the past two weeks. 

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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and MPD have made steps to help D.C. residents who currently drive the two brands. According to a tweet posted by Bowser on Feb. 23, residents who own a 2011-2021 Kia or Hyundai can pick up free steering wheel locks from a D.C. police station beginning Feb. 24. 

Davis shared that he wished he had been informed earlier on the recent spike in auto thefts with the two brands so that he could’ve taken steps for prevention. 

“If they would have told me that, I would’ve took the initiative to go and get a car–get a steering wheel lock or put my car up or go to Hyundai and have them fix it,” he said. 

Davis shared that the DPS was still actively investigating his case and could not release any details to him. Then after reaching out to MPD, he said he was set to speak with a detective from MPD about any further updates on the case.

“But as I still stand here on February 22nd and it happened on what? February 17th I believe, I don’t know anything, like there’s nothing,” he said. “Nothing has shown up. No car has popped up. No phone call has been sent.”

Davis, however, did maintain that the police authorities present at the time his car was stolen were “amazing.”  

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Thompson, though, feels like DPS, “don’t really give anything”, especially in regards to theft around campus.

“It just doesn’t seem safe on this campus. So, I don’t know what they’re paying for in my opinion,” She said.

Carter shared that DPS is already taking steps to prevent these auto thefts from taking place. “In the next coming weeks, the department plans to have “substantive” conversations about what can be done”, he said. The department has also already begun hosting meetings with various student organizations about auto-theft prevention. 

“But we take this very seriously,” Carter said. “And even though it’s a city-wide problem, we’re going to do all we can as a department to make sure that no one is impacted by all means that we can.”

Carter also stressed the importance of students reporting crimes in a timely manner to increase their chances of their cars being recovered. 

“But the quicker you call DPS or the quicker you call the Metropolitan Police Department the better it is for the chances for the car to be recovered,” he said. “So I really want to stress… getting in contact with public safety officials as quickly as possible is a good idea.”

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Davis encouraged people to contribute to both his and Thompson’s GoFundMe pages to help them in their situations. 

“I do feel that it’s sick that any of us have to go through this. I think we’re at four right now. We may be at three or four…It’s been multiple and I feel like it should’ve stopped with me,” Davis said. “Like although I would not have wanted it for myself I definitely do not want this for other people.”

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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