After working a late shift at a downtown Minneapolis restaurant last month, Joshua Kirk had some time to kill before heading to the airport to pick up a friend. The night was warm, so he decided to walk to Uptown for a nightcap.
By 11 p.m., he had made it as far as the corner of Groveland and S. Pillsbury avenues, a mostly residential area he had passed through many times before. As he walked, a man in a hoodie crept up behind him. Before Kirk realized what was happening, the man wrapped his arms around his neck.
“It was just a really dark spot on the block and he came up behind me and started choking me — I didn’t hear a thing coming,” Kirk, 37, said of the Aug. 11 incident. As he was being pulled to the ground, Kirk says he blacked out twice. As he came to, Kirk said, the robber was rifling through his pant pockets, one hand still around his throat.
The man, who Kirk described as dark-complected with an average build and a beard, didn’t let go until a passerby intervened. The robber didn’t get away with much — a $20 bill Kirk had on him at the time but the experience left him shaken, he said. Kirk sought medical attention the following day, but waited nearly a week before contacting police because things got busy at work, he said.
As it turns out, he may not have been the robber’s first victim.
Police said they are investigating at least 11 other incidents with similar circumstances in downtown and south Minneapolis over the past two months. In each case, the victims were choked and then robbed. The first such stickup happened July 13 in the 440 block of Ridgewood Avenue, according to police.
A department spokesman said last week that detectives don’t yet know whether the robberies are the work of a single suspect.
“MPD is investigating several robberies in the 1st and 5th (precincts) where victims have been strangled,” Officer Corey Schmidt, a police spokesman, said. “Robbery Investigators are hoping to piece together suspect description by doing some follow up with each victim.”
The 1st Precinct has bucked a citywide trend that has seen robberies dip slightly — including in the 5th Precinct — compared to this time in 2016. Department statistics show robberies in the downtown area have jumped about 36 percent, year-over-year.
It was only after Kirk wrote about the incident on Facebook that he learned from friends that several similar robberies had been reported recently in the area. The next day, he filed a police report.
“If this guy is going to be serial assaulting people, I want my name on that list, too, because if he ever gets caught, I want him to get charged for everything,” Kirk said.
Kirk said in a phone interview he felt fortunate to be alive, thanks in no small part to the stranger who happened upon the attack and chased the robber away.
“As far as I’m concerned he tried to kill me,” he said. “That’s when some random guy happened to be walking by and I got (the robber’s) arm off my throat.”