Students and Neighbors Shocked Over Recent Robberies in Morningside Heights

Many Columbia University students are still shocked that a violent home invasion robbery took place in a university-owned building just four blocks from campus. Surveillance footage shows four masked men wearing hoodies and forcing their way into the building at the corner of 111th Street and Broadway before midnight on Oct. 28.

The robbers pushed their way into the apartment where two men live, stealing money from one and assaulting the other as he walked in mid-robbery. He was injured during the attack and taken to St. Luke’s Hospital. Though the victims were not Columbia students, according to the crime prevention manager for the university, the invasion caused concern among students and neighbors.

The robbers have not been caught.

“When I first heard of the robbery, I was really scared because I didn’t know where exactly it took place,” said Joanna Plucinska, a graduate student in a university apartment on Malcolm X Boulevard. “It’s still very scary because there has been a history of crime in my neighborhood and my immediate reaction was to close all three locks of my apartment.”

Recent robbery reports indicate a slight increase in the crime incidents around Morningside Heights, an area generally known to be safer than other parts of New York City.  There are 75 precincts covering the whole city and the 26th precinct, that covers Morningside Heights, is rated as the 5th safest police precinct, according to Ricardo Morales, manager of crime prevention programs at the university.

“When things like this happen, it is most likely that the robbers are tipped off and know that some valuables are in the apartment,” said Morales. “I don’t think it was random.”

Both NYPD and Columbia officials declined to say how much money was taken from the apartment. A crime alert was sent out to all students, faculty and staff members of the university a few hours after the incident’s report.

According to an NYPD official, the robbery was an isolated incident.

“It was somebody that was already known to them,” said the official, who would not reveal his name. “But I wouldn’t be too worried about it.”

But students and neighbors alike remain concerned.

“It’s shocking to hear about these robberies,” said Hamid Sakhi, 27, a medical student residing at International House. “This area is supposed to be a little safer since it’s near Columbia University compared to an apartment housing near Harlem. Public Safety cars are always patrolling around but these robberies seem to be increasing.”

Just two days after the robbery, another incident was reported nearby on West 110 and Riverside Drive, where two suspects approached the victim from behind, punched him and fled with his valuables. The police would not identify what the robbers took.

In just the month of October, Public Safety sent out 10 security alerts of robberies and other small crimes, including bicycle thefts- around the neighborhood.

The police would not reveal any more information about the robberies or the suspects, but, according to police reports and pictures sent out in the security alert, the suspects carried guns.

“When I heard of the incident, I was not only stunned but quite worried since I’ve lived on this street for over a decade,” said Nicole Sanders, who lives on 111th St. “I locked my door and I’m now more alert.”

Angel Vargas, the doorman who works in the building next door to where the robbery took place, said nothing like this has ever happened in the 40 years he’s worked on 111th Street.

“This was scary,” he said, “and students should be careful when bringing people they just met over to their apartments.”

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