"I was getting out of my date's car, right in front of the house, when a man ran up and pointed a gun at me," a young Capitol Hill woman told a meeting of residents of her block last week. "He said 'Get back in the car. You're driving me home." My date said, 'you're the boss,' and the guy told us to drive to Andrews Air Force Base. But we didn't know where it was, so he said, 'Just keep driving." The guy was very erratic and he had a gun pointed at my neck. He kept saying, 'No police. I will not hesitate to use this gun.'"
During an hour's terrifying ride, the gunman took the woman's watch, diamond ring and money, she told the group. Then he ordered the couple to stop the car, and he fled.
The woman's experience was one of a series of abductions, robberies and rapes that have occurred within a few blocks of each other on Capitol Hill during the past few months. A suspect was arrested June 4 and charged with armed robbery in one of the incidents. He also had been identified in a lineup in connection with 12 additional crimes. He has not yet been charged with any of the other 12 Capitol Hill crimes, but evidence in those cases will be presented to the grand jury, according to the D.C. police.
"This was the last straw in a series of incidents that has befallen this house since I've lived here," said one of the woman's housemates, who asked that his name not be used.
With the aid of ANC Commissioner Jan Eichhorn, he arranged a meeting and invited resident of the 400 block of 7th Street SE and the 700 block of E Street SE, Lt. Jerry S. Collins of the First District Police Substation and Marguerite Gras of the Capitol East Community Crime Council.
Many of the residents barely knew each other before the meeting. During the course of the evening, however, they found they had something in common - they had been victims of similar crimes.
"My place was broken into in March," said Michael O'Connell, one of the few residents who did not object to his name being used. "They were my size and took all my clothes. It was in the middle of the day, and they carried them off in my own garbage bags."
When other residents told of similar burglaries in February and March, Gras suggested that a rash of a particular kind of crime might be averted by better communication among neighbors.
"Send a note around saying, "I was broken into. This is the way they did it.' Circulate a list of your office numbers. Our office will help with mimeographing," said Gras.
"We have a public housing area down the block," said another resident. "We have locally bred crime. How can we reach the mothers of the kids in the public housing area?"
"We have ways to get you together with the people in public housing." said Gras, adding that residents of her own block worked with children in the surrounding area through reading clubs and other activities.
"What could I have done to ward off what happened?" asked the woman who had been abducted at gunpoint.
"Find out which of your neighbors stay up late," advised Gras. "Call ahead and ask one of them to watch for you. Or took your horn three times before getting out of your car - a signal for your neighbors to go to their window. When word gets around that this is a block that does that, the offenders will cool it."
"One of the problems I've noticed since the story got out," said the young woman who had been abducted, "is that people call and ask, 'What are you still doing on the Hill?'"
Gras said that in many ways the Capitol Hill area has fewer crime problems than the suburbs.
"Do you have some statistics on that I can show my mother?" asked the young woman. Gras promised to supply them.
Collins outlined the services the police would provide to help citizens avoid crime - such as a police security check to point out a household's vulnerability to crime, the loan of an engraver for citizens to mark their valuables with their Social Security numbers and vacant house checks when residents are out of town.
"We don't recommend you use weapons," Collins said in answer to a question. "Your best weapons is the telephone."
Before the meeting broke up, several volunteers were enlisted to contact neighbors who hadn't attended and to organize a communication system for the block.
"I'm going away this weekend," said one woman to a neighbor she had barely known before the meeting. "Would you keep an eye on my place?"
"One thing about this meeting," said the abduction victim. "Now I'll be able to say 'hi' to people and know who they are."