VCU Police: Not the start to the semester that we were looking for

Posted at 12:52 AM, Aug 23, 2012
and last updated 2012-08-23 00:52:24-04

RICHMOND, VA (WTVR) — Virginia Commonwealth University Police need help identifying the 15 young men and women involved in two unprovoked campus beatings and a robbery early Wednesday morning as numerous back-to-school events wound down.
Surveillance camera images have been released showing the roving group of black men and women – believed to be aged 17 to 22 – involved in the attacks on or near Shafer Street shortly before 3 a.m.
A man of Middle Eastern decent – a visitor to the campus - was punched without warning as he got out his car at the intersection of West Grace and Shafer streets, according to VCU police.
Moments later, a block away on West Franklin Street, the group confronted a white male student. Someone made fun of his boots and then he was punched in the head from behind, knocking him to the ground, according to the police report.
“Give me everything you’ve got,” the victim said someone in the group yelled. Then, he said he was punched in the neck again and somebody stole a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, according to the police summary of the incident.
VCU police said the group was last spotted heading south through Shafer Court.
“This is not the start to the semester that we were looking for,” VCU Police Chief John Venuti told CBS 6. The victims’ injuries were minor.
“We are currently following up on some leads and we are looking for some of the camera shots of the suspects that were involved,” Venuti added.
With the events happening so close to the start of the academic year, students say it is serving as a wakeup call.
“Knowing it can happen is a little scary,” Nora Wilson, a VCU Junior, said.
“It’s probably scared a few kids that are not so used to the city,” Zach Wilson, an incoming freshman, told CBS 6.
The unprovoked campus attack come as 30,000 students prepared to start the fall semester and VCU police ramped up their don’t-be-a-victim campaign. The department is adding 10 more officers, bringing the force to 92 and has hired an international security firm to help keep the urban campus safe.
Venuti said at this point in the investigation, race is not believed to be a motive in the attacks.
Some residents in the Jackson Ward area say the attacks sound familiar. They say there have been a series of lightning assaults and robberies involving roving groups of young men in their neighborhood. They say the youths sprint up to unsuspecting victims, blindsiding them with punches that knock them to the ground.
Richmond police confirm there have been a half-dozen or so  robberies and attacks this summer involving roving groups of young males in the Jackson Ward and Broad Street area just east of the VCU campus and center city dorms. They’re “young and mobile” and RPD is stepping up foot and bicycle patrols to catch them. CBS6 reported two similar attacks in that area last November.
A witness to one of these attacks on Broad Street near Belvidere Friday said it appeared no robbery occurred, just a quick, vicious, intimidating beatdown, similar to the wilding incidents involving young people that caused so much turmoil and controversy during the First Friday Art walks in the past year.
It’s unclear if there’s any connection between Wednesday morning’s attacks and those reported in the areas just east of campus. Some in Jackson Ward believe their roving groups are made up of junior high school-aged youths, which would likely make them younger than those sought by VCU police.
Anyone with information in this campus attacks is asked to VCU police at  804-828-1196 or text your tip 274637 with the keyword VCUtip.