The lawyer had worked late, taken the last Metro train to Friendship Heights and started walking to his home in Chevy Chase — a 30-minute trek he had made safely many times, even after most people had gone to bed.
Trouble came at 12:15 a.m. Tuesday near the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church on Western Avenue in Northwest Washington, near the Chevy Chase traffic circle. Two young men came up behind him, he told police. The authorities said one pressed a handgun into his back.
The 54-year-old lawyer said the gunmen forced him to his knees, and then to his stomach, and ordered him to tap in the password to his iPhone’s iCloud account. One of them told him, “Hurry up, hurry up.”
He was the first victim in a rash of armed robberies that D.C. police said lasted about two hours and included five more holdups as the gunmen cut a path from Chevy Chase in Upper Northwest through Tenleytown and 16th Street Heights before ending on Capitol Hill, where two people were held up minutes apart.
In all, police said, the robbers escaped with at least $1,700 in cash and phones. Authorities put out pictures of a person of interest and said they were searching for two or three men and a tan older-model car. None of the victims were injured, but many described harrowing ordeals.
The lawyer held up near the church said he had walked by the men and tried to avoid them. He said they turned around and came up behind him. “I heard a couple of quick steps, then felt a gun in my back,” he said. They took his phone and wallet but left without the code to his accounts. “I was so frazzled by the whole thing,” said the man, who did not want his name revealed because he is a victim of an unsolved crime.
After the attack, the lawyer said, he walked the rest of the way home and called his bank and phone company to cut off accounts. He did not think of calling 911 until 2:30 a.m., police said. By then, authorities said, three other people had been robbed by the same group, which was working its way south through the District.
“In my mind, I wasn’t hurt, it’s not an emergency anymore,” the lawyer said, explaining his delay in calling police. “I should have thought that they would go on to accost other people.”
Police said they think that the same men are responsible for the robberies based on similar descriptions given by victims and that in all the cases the gunmen demanded cellphones and wallets or cash. Descriptions were vague, but police said all were black males. Two were described as in their early to mid-20s, and one was wearing a brown safari or fisherman-type hat. Another had on a white tank top.
Police have increased patrols in areas where the robberies occurred and posted advisories on Internet community bulletin boards. “These robberies seem to target people that are walking alone during the late and early morning hours of the night,” wrote Lt. Jerome M. Merrill of the 2nd Police District. “Remember the vast majority of robberies are crimes of opportunity. Let’s provide the smallest if not no opportunities at all to be a victim.”
Robberies have been a persistent problem in the District, driven, in large part, police said, by the desire for cellphones. Police have reported 679 gun robberies in the District this year, up from 580 at this time in 2014.
Police reported three additional armed street robberies early Wednesday, all after midnight in Northwest, with similar descriptions of the gunmen from Tuesday. A police spokeswoman said detectives are investigating whether those are related to the earlier robberies.
Carolyn “Callie” Cook, a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission for Chevy Chase, said residents have noticed the increased police presence, “which is a relief to many folks.” Officers, she said, “were swarming over the neighborhood and were very concerned about locating these guys. People are obviously very concerned. We don’t want this to escalate. It’s really scary.”
A half-hour after the robbers held up the lawyer Tuesday, police said, they made their way down Connecticut Avenue NW and attacked a woman near Military Road about 12:45 a.m. The 56-year-old victim was wearing headphones and was carrying a bag. She said one man approached holding a small handgun and said, “Give me your stuff,” or something similar.
The woman, who also did not want to be named, said the man grabbed her bag and the two tussled before her wallet fell to the ground. She said the man took it and ran away. She ran after, yelling: “There’s nothing in it. Just drop it.” The robber did not take her cellphone.
She said someone later found her Metro and debit cards, and her license, which the robber apparently discarded. “It just didn’t seem threatening to me; it probably should have,” the woman said. “He just didn’t scare me.”
Fifteen minutes later, police said, the robbers were one mile down Connecticut Avenue, in the 3500 block of Albermarle Street NW, near Tenleytown. Jackson Ross, 19, was walking home from a friend’s house about 1 a.m. when he said two men came up to him in the street. Both were holding guns and demanded his cellphone and wallet.
Ross said the two men, who appeared to be in their early 20s, repeatedly asked for the credit card PIN, and he said he did not know it because it belonged to his parents. After 45 seconds, one of the men grabbed his phone and both fled, leaving Ross with half of his phone case still in his hand.
Ross said that he does not think the men would have used their guns but that at the time he was trying to stay safe. “All I could think about was how do I, like, you know, not be shot,” he said.
Other victims told police similar stories about being robbed of money and phones. Police said they think three men in the same group robbed two victims at gunpoint at 1:45 a.m. on Arkansas Avenue, and then two of them made their way to Capitol Hill.
There, police said, two people were robbed at gunpoint in quick succession — in the 1200 block of G Street NE at 2:43 a.m. and around the corner, in the 800 block of 11th Street NE, at 2:45 a.m.
In that last robbery, police said, a 36-year-old man said two men pointed a gun at his head and ordered him to the ground. They took his wallet and phone from his pockets and told him to “count to 100.” The man told police that he heard a car door close and the vehicle drive off.