Friday, December 19, 2014

Tech-savvy students help police nab serial armed robbers in West Philadelphia

A group of tech-savvy Drexel University students who were robbed of their iPhones at gunpoint in West Philadelphia late last night helped police track down the robbers within minutes using an iPhone locator app.

Tech-savvy students help police nab serial armed robbers in West Philadelphia

A group of tech-savvy Drexel University students who were robbed of their iPhones at gunpoint in West Philadelphia late last night helped police track down the robbers within minutes using an iPhone locator app.

Police said the students, who were approached by a man and a woman armed with handguns on Powelton Street near 32nd shortly after 10 p.m., were five of 11 people robbed by the same assailants in the span of about two hours last night.

In last night's first robbery, around 8:30 p.m., a rowing coach and a student-athlete from New York's Clarkson University were approached by two men and a woman who brandished handguns on Sansom Street near 45th, Lt. John Walker of the Southwest Detective Division said. The trio put the gun in the victims' faces and threatened to shoot them, then fled with a wallet and an iPhone, investigators said.

Fifteen minutes later, three people were walking near 43rd and Regent streets by Clark Park when they were accosted by the same offenders, who showed a gun, threatened to shoot them and robbed them of their phones, Walker said.

Around 9 p.m., investigators said, the robbers struck again at 42nd and Ludlow. In that incident, a man walking in the area was approached by two men who pulled a gun and demanded his phone. Police said the man handed over his Samsung Galaxy phone, then saw the assailants get into a black Honda Accord sedan and was able to provide a partial tag on that car to police.

The spree didn't end there -- shortly after 10 p.m., five male Drexel students were walking together on Powelton Avenue near 32nd Street headed toward campus when they were approached by a man and a woman who both pulled guns, Walker said. All gave up their iPhones.

One of the victims in that robbery, a senior at Drexel who asked that the Daily News withhold his name, said he instantly began using a "Find my iPhone" app installed on his phone to remotely track where the bandits were traveling using GPS. Before the trio turned his phone off, he was able to tell police the direction they appeared to be headed using the GPS.

"The students were very technologically savvy and began tracking their phones immediately," Walker said.

Within about 15 minutes of that robbery, Walker said, a University of Pennsylvania police sergeant spotted the Honda the robbers were driving in the area of 44th Street and Baltimore Avenue. He pulled them over at that intersection, and one of the three people in the car bailed out and took off on foot, Walker said. The other two in the car, a 25-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman, were arrested on the spot and positively identified by the victims in the robberies, Walker said.

The man had the Drexel senior's iPhone 5 in his pocket when he was arrested, Walker said, and when cops obtained a warrant and searched the Honda this morning, they found eight other phones that had been taken. The pair, identified by police as Sean King and Shalina Watts, are facing 11 counts of robbery for each of the 11 victims targeted last night.

Walker said police are looking into the possibility that the pair is also responsible for five other robberies in the last two weeks -- two April 29 at 48th and Springfield and 48th and Chester, one May 4 at 34th and Powelton and two May 6 at 37th and Fairmount and 39th and Brandywine.

Police are still on the hunt for the third man wanted in connection with the robberies.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Southwest Detective Division at 215-686-3183, the police tip line at 215-686-TIPS (8477) or text a tip to PPD TIP (773847).

Tips can also be sent to tips@phillypolice.com or submitted online here.

About this blog

Philly Confidential, which covers crime in Philadelphia and the suburbs, is written by Daily News staffers Dana DiFilippo, Stephanie Farr, Vinny Vella and Morgan Zalot.

E-mail tips to DiFilippo at difilid@phillynews.com and follow her on Twitter here.

E-mail tips to Farr at farrs@phillynews.com and follow her on Twitter here.

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