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Police say students back in school are 'smorgasbord' for would-be robbers

| Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009

Can Duruk admitted he felt uneasy moments before being robbed at gunpoint Saturday — becoming the third Carnegie Mellon student robbed since students returned to the Oakland campus two weeks ago.

"Next time, even if I'm just sketched out a little, I will turn around," said Duruk, 23, a CMU senior. "It's not worth it."

Duruk was robbed while walking home on Amberson Avenue in Shadyside. The robbers stole his wallet and iPhone — which proved to be their undoing. Using his iPhone's GPS technology, Duruk tracked the phone to a North Versailles Eat'n Park and alerted police, who arrested three men.

Duruk said he still feels safe, but CMU and Pitt officials and police are urging students to take precautions.

"It's a smorgasbord for these robbery suspects," Pittsburgh police Detective Donald Pasquarelli said. "The kids are back here, running around thinking about what they're going to do, and the next thing you know you're looking down the barrel of a gun."

On Aug. 16, three men in a minivan pulled up to a CMU student walking home about 2:30 a.m. near the corner of Forbes Avenue and Margaret Morrison Street in Oakland. The men, one armed with a gun, ordered the student to the ground and took his wallet and phone.

Ten days later, another CMU student was robbed by an armed assailant about 9 a.m. near Howe Street and Negley Avenue in Shadyside. The robber hit the student with his gun, stole his wallet, phone and other possessions and fled in an older-model compact car.

A Pitt student was robbed about 9 p.m. Aug. 24 when he was attacked by five to six men while walking on a trail on East End Avenue near Forbes in Point Breeze, police said. The men punched and threw the student to the ground and took his wallet, police said.

Like Duruk, the students were walking alone.

Police have not made arrests in the other robberies.

CMU grad student Ryan Shaw, 22, said he and his friends have changed their ways.

"We're not even walking in pairs anymore," he said. "We're walking in groups."

Pasquarelli stressed that students should avoid walking alone.

"Keep your head on a swivel," he said. "When you're accosted by two to four people and one of them has a gun, you're really at a disadvantage. That's why we tell everybody you're stronger in numbers. Not to say you can't get robbed in numbers because it happens, but the likelihood is less."

CMU officials sent out crime alerts after the robberies, urging students to use services such as a shuttle or SafeWalk, in which student volunteers escort students on and around campus from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Pitt stressed safety during its freshmen orientation and encourages students to take shuttles and walk with other students, said Ron Bennett, community relations officer with the university's police department.

"There are more than just students here," Bennett said he tells students. "Everyone that's here is not necessarily your friend."

The robberies are a change from the peaceful summer months, said Abigail Phillips, 20, a Pitt junior who stayed in Oakland this summer.

"Usually, I feel pretty safe, but if you're out alone at 2:30 in the morning, you have to take precautions," she said. "You are in a city."

Additional Information:

Campus robberies

Carnegie Mellon University: 2 in 2007, 6 in 2006, 2 in 2005

University of Pittsburgh: 26 in 2007, 30 in 2006, 21 in 2005

Source: CMU and Pitt crime reports

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