“The one where we got mugged at gunpoint”

Photo by Casey Gomez

Home Park, a pocket of quiet, dark streets lined by single-family homes and chain-link fences, can be frightening to outsiders at night, but students make up the majority of its tenants and most people go their full time at Tech without a problem.

We read Clery Acts emails and may know someone who got mugged, but like most crime victims, we question the probability of it happening to us.

Two friends and I left a party at 10:50 p.m. on Labor Day and walked down Ethel Street. I followed Sam and Katie (names have been changed) back to their house across Fourteenth, staying in well-lit areas and conscious of our surroundings.

We turned from Ethel onto Mecaslin and were half a block down when the car approached the corner behind us, pulling past the stop sign and pausing in the intersection. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, but I played it off as humor. I turned to Sam and Katie and said, “We’ve got company,” like a line from a bad movie.

The car doors flew open and two men in dark hoodies came running at us. I saw the silhouette of a semi-automatic in their hands and did the most stereotypical horror movie damsel-in-distress thing possible.

I tried to run, tripped and fell on my face.

The taller man stood over me while I wrestled myself free of my purse strap, half of me struck with how helpless I was on the ground with a weapon pointed at me and the other half eerily calm, reasoning that he didn’t want to shoot me — he just wanted my stuff. The men nabbed Sam’s wallet and they bolted for their car and sped off. I pulled myself to my feet. It was all over in seconds.

Katie sprinted down Mecaslin screaming. Internet tips tell women to draw attention if they’re being attacked, and it worked: A girl stuck her head out the window of a nearby house and asked what happened. A minute later, the three of us stood in the girl’s living room, me on the phone with GTPD and Sam and Katie wide-eyed on the couch.

Flashing blue lights appeared five minutes after. A GTPD officer listened as we recounted the incident and stumbled over the suspects’ descriptions for the Clery Act alert. For those who don’t know, a Clery Act alert is a mass email sent out when a serious crime happens on or near campus. Suspect descriptions are famously vague, but I now know from experience that it is difficult to memorize a face or unique features when conscious thought is shoved aside in favor of fight-or-flight.

After speaking to the GTPD officer and then the APD officer and detective that arrived later, the eerie calm won over the helplessness. I settled into a bemused acceptance of, “That happened, what next?” followed by “This will make a great story at parties.”

I saw Sam on the couch, frightened, and started cracking jokes with the police while giving my statement. I complained about losing a Kate Spade purse, because focusing on something insignificant dulled the panic further, especially when I realized while talking what tipped me off about the car pulling up behind us in the first place: They didn’t stop at the Stop sign. They rolled into the intersection and stopped midway through. They were checking us out as targets.

In between giving statements to the authorities, I called my mom and she called my roommate who waited for me at our apartment. I got a ride from a police officer and finally shuffled home around 2 a.m. I washed and bandaged the gashes on my elbows and knees where I had fallen on the street. The adrenaline did not wear off until sunrise and I pulled my first all-nighter at Tech that had nothing to do with class.

The next morning, Find My iPhone tracked my phone to a McDonalds on Moreland Street in East Atlanta. I sent the screenshots to the police and my mom and stepdad drove me there and watched while I peeked into nearby trashcans. I cannot tell you what I hoped to accomplish at a McDonalds in East Atlanta at 10 a.m., but it grounded what was otherwise a surreal experience. I made it home that day realizing I had not lost anything I would be unable to replace. Moving on was as simple as saying I would do just that.

I do not expect any updates in the case, though two other friends of mine were mugged a few weeks later by who I want to believe were the same people.

The Clery Act alert reported no injuries but I’ve got an ugly scar on my knee and I flinch whenever I’m walking outside and see a stranger coming or going my way. Getting mugged was a small blip of a tragedy compared to worse in Atlanta, but it changed my concept of safety and left odd impulses in its wake. Sometimes, when walking home late from studio, I sprint across Tech Square to my apartment even though the street is deserted and Tech Square is much safer than Home Park.

I also internalized compassion for the two men who came at us, because that neighborhood in East Atlanta was in terrible shape. I checked off every way to rationalize what happened, some of which made more sense than others, and developed a mantra for handling future mishaps: Bad things happen, which means there’s a statistical inevitability that bad things will happen to me and those I care about. This also means, of course, that there is a statistical inevitability that good things will happen too — no one got hurt seriously, and people I’d never met before and won’t see again came to our aid.

Now, I’ve told this story at parties, bars and once at a new member icebreaker game for a leadership organization. Laughing at it turns it into a whacky college experience rather than a moment of real danger, and I even told my roommate I’d like to print out the alert and hang it in our living room, though I probably never will.

The Tech bubble makes us feel safer than we are, and sometimes we forget that just outside is a massive, bustling city where it takes only seconds for something to happen.