A series of home invasions near the Tulane University campus has students and residents in the Uptown neighborhood rattled, as New Orleans police search for a man, perhaps in his 20s, who they believe is breaking into the homes of young women — mostly when they are asleep.
Police said Monday they believe the man may have committed as many as five break-ins over the weekend.
None of the victims, most of them women in their late teens and early 20s, were injured. But the striking similarities in several of their accounts — glass broken to gain entry and a man placing his hands over women’s mouths — have nonetheless alarmed Tulane’s campus and prompted police to announce new patrols.
“We’re only two blocks from campus, so we’ve always been, like, we live in the safest place possible,” said Emily Howards, 21, a Tulane student who was walking Monday near the site of one of the break-ins. “The fact that they’re on these blocks is kind of surprising.”
Shaun Ferguson, the NOPD’s 2nd District commander, said he couldn’t say for sure that college students are being targeted. Police also have not determined whether the intruder has been casing victims’ homes in advance, but in all of the cases police believe are connected, no men were inside the residences.
“He may be following them, or catching them on the street and then following them to their residence,” Ferguson said.
Detectives are searching for video surveillance of the break-ins, as well as meeting with victims to get a more definitive description of the perpetrator. The NOPD late Monday had said only that the suspect is a white man with dark hair.
Tulane police gave varying descriptions of the man from separate victims. One described him as a white man in his 20s, about 5-feet-7 to 5-feet-8, of medium build and with long hair. Another said he was a man of unknown race between 5-feet-8 and 5-feet-10, between 18 and 30 years of age. Another victim said he was a white man, about 5-feet-10 and of medium build.
Police believe the first in the series of weekend break-ins happened late Friday in the 7600 block of Oak Street. A man entered a woman’s house while she was asleep and covered her mouth.
Another break-in happened in the 1700 block of South Carrollton Avenue that same night.
About 4 a.m. Sunday, a man put his hands over a 49-year-old woman’s mouth during a break-in in the 1000 block of Lowerline Street. He fled when she was able to shout “No!”
Roughly an hour later, according to New Orleans police, a 21-year-old woman was awakened in the 1200 block of Lowerline by the sound of a man searching through her belongings. She confronted the man and he fled after producing a knife, according to police. Three other women — all of them 20 — were also in the house.
The man apparently struck again about 3 a.m. Monday. Tulane police said in a crime alert that a female student awoke to find an unknown man in her room in the 1100 block of Broadway. In this case, the man got into the woman’s bed. This victim screamed, and again the man fled.
Tulane spokesman Michael Strecker said patrols have been increased by both campus police and the NOPD.
As both departments search for a suspect, students who live near campus are taking precautions.
Tulane student Rachel Brisgel, 20, sat Monday morning on a porch near where some of the break-ins happened. She said she receives regular campus crime alerts, but these hit closer to home. She is now reminding herself to leave the porch light on at night and to always lock the door.
In addition to the mental notes to herself, Brisgel was also preparing herself for more safety reminders — from her parents.
“I’ll probably hear about it,” she said. “Yeah. I’ll definitely hear about that.”