University of Minnesota police were poring over hundreds of security-camera images as they sought two suspects after a 19-year-old student was shot in the chest "without provocation" outside a dormitory on the Minneapolis campus late Monday.
The student was in satisfactory condition Tuesday and said he was "feeling better." The shooting was the last of three apparently random crimes in a 20-minute span that left administrators frustrated and thousands of students buzzing.
As of Tuesday night, authorities had made no arrests. Investigators hope the suspects' images might have been captured on one or more of 1,800 security cameras on the campus, where administrators say there has been one robbery reported in the past five years.
"As a parent, if I had a student here, I would be concerned," Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for student affairs, said at a campus news conference Tuesday afternoon. "We're letting everyone know that the best thing we can do is remind people of safety procedures. The randomness of this is so outrageous. It's intolerable."
At around 11:07 p.m. Monday, two men approached two female students near Moos Tower and robbed them before fleeing toward several large residential halls, said University Police Chief Greg Hestness.
One of the assailants grabbed the coat of one of the students to stop her as she passed, said Chuck Miner, deputy chief of the University Police. The assailants demanded the students' backpacks and cell phones. Miner said the victims believed the two were armed with a handgun.
Moments later, Miner said, the male student was walking in front of Centennial Hall along Delaware Street SE. when two men approached him and one said something to him.
"He turned around to see what they said to him and one of them shot the male in the chest in the abdomen region," Miner said. "There were no words described, there was no robbery implied, they never asked for any valuables or anything. They just simply shot him and ran off." The suspects ran east and eventually off the campus, Miner said.
A small-caliber bullet casing was recovered from the shooting scene, police said.
The victim, a freshman, entered the Centennial Hall lobby and was helped by staff members, students and responding emergency personnel, police said. He was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center and underwent surgery for what Miner described as a non-life-threatening injury. Police are not releasing his identity.
Reached by cell phone Tuesday, the student, whose parents had joined him, said he is "feeling better" and "able to walk now" but asked that his name not be used out of concern for his safety. He was reported in satisfactory condition.
U freshman Eric Wenz said he was returning from the campus recreation center shortly after 11 p.m. Monday when he heard two shots, which he said sounded like firecrackers but didn't startle him. He then saw the two victims of the first robbery running "frantically" near Moos Tower. As he continued toward Centennial Hall, he was summoned near the lobby, where several students were gathered around the shooting victim, holding a towel to his side.
"He was definitely in pain but not critical," Wenz said. "He said he was just walking on the sidewalk and he saw these two boys running toward him in puffy jackets. They passed him, all of the sudden stopped, turned around, and one of the suspects said to the other 'Get him,' then they shot him. I don't know why they would do that."
Wenz said the victim handled his injury well. "It just kind of opens your eyes that we are in the city and something like this happens, but you don't expect it to happen on a college campus where you live."
Authorities say an earlier robbery of a female student just off campus also has been linked to the suspects. Police said the student was robbed at 10:50 p.m. in the 500 block of Huron Blvd. SE.
She gave descriptions of her assailants that were similar to the ones offered by the other victims. Police said the student reported seeing a navy blue sports sedan that might be linked to the suspects, and she said it had three or four people inside.
The student had just gotten off a city bus after attending class. The 19-year-old sophomore said she was walking "when all of a sudden I heard rustling and two guys grabbed me from behind. I instinctively fell to the ground." The student asked that her name not be used out of concern for her safety.
One of the suspects told her to give him "my stuff or he was going to shoot," she said. "I saw he had a gun in his hand." She surrendered the bag under her arm, which included her laptop computer, and saw the pair run toward TCF Stadium.
"As much as that sucks" to lose a laptop, "it seems kind of minor, especially when you consider what happened to the other people," she said.
Minneapolis police Sgt. Jesse Garcia said investigators are unsure whether the suspects may have lived in the neighborhood, or whether they may be targeting college students. He called Monday night's rash of robberies "a unique situation" and said there has been no unusual spike in crime in the area.
One suspect is described as a light-skinned black man, 18 to 20 years old, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a light build and acne scars on his face. He was wearing a black puffy winter jacket, black pants and a stocking cap. He was carrying a handgun.
The other suspect is described as a light-skinned black man, 18 to 20 years old, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, with a slight build. He was wearing a black jacket and he may have been armed with a handgun.
"It's been a very long time" since a University of Minnesota student has been shot, Hestness said. Referring to the security cameras, Miner said, "We're poring through those images to see what facts we can gather."
Students unsettled, puzzled
On campus Tuesday morning, students walked past Moos Tower and Centennial Hall, where there were no physical remnants of what happened the night before. Students, however, were fully aware of the crimes.
Shifra Rothenberg and Annie Favreau, both 19-year-old sophomores who live in Centennial Hall, learned of the student's shooting when Rothenberg received a text message from a friend. Both said they were shocked at what happened, given that both walk on campus at night.
"It's just not a happy thing to happen on campus," Favreau said. "The past 24 hours have not been good."
Both were concerned that the university did not alert students about the crimes soon after they occurred.
Miner responded that crime alerts issued by the university should not be viewed as a source for immediate information. He said the TXT-U emergency notification system widely in use since the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shootings would have been used to alert students if authorities believed the assailants were still in the area.
"That's used for notifying the community when there's still an ongoing threat," he said. "In this case, the personnel on duty did not feel there was an ongoing threat. They felt the suspects had fled the campus and the threat was over."
Anyone with information about the incidents is asked to contact University Police at 612-624-COPS (2677) or 612-626-TIPS (8477).
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482 Abby Simons • 612-673-4921