Cell phone robbers target Des Moines college students

DES MOINES, Wash. -- Police are trying to cap a crime spree at a local college campus where students are getting roughed-up for their cell phones.

Strong-armed robbers have swiped at least 20 phones so far, taking victims by surprise and then leaving them bloodied.

"I didn't think it was really happening. I was really shocked," said Natasha Kolodub, a nursing student at Highline Community College, and one of the latest cell phone theft victims.

On the evening of December 11, Kolodub was walking from school to a bus stop when a man tried to get her attention, and then another rushed up behind her.

"I turn around, and I kind of pull my phone away from my face, and his friend behind me just runs up and he just snatched it," she said.

Kolodub was lucky. Some students have been roughed up at gunpoint. Police say others have been knocked down and kicked or punched.

Master Sgt. Doug Jenkins with the Des Moines Police Department says since May, 20 Highline Community College students have reported robberies at or near the campus.

"I think they found an easy area with a lot of easy targets," Jenkins said of the thieves.

The suspects always wear hoodies or masks to cover their faces, so descriptions have been hard to come by. Police and campus security are increasing patrols, and sending emails to students urging them to be alert and trust their gut instincts.

Kolodub said she saw the emails but "didn't really pay attention to them because I didn't think it was going to happen to me."

Detectives have identified several potential suspects, and hope to end this crime spree before the next 911 call.

"It's just scary to know that somebody could do all that just for a phone," Kolodub said. "It's not worth it."

As many as six suspects are involved in these crimes and they've been known to gang-up on a single victim. Detectives say they've developed some potential leads but couldn't get into specifics.