U of M student hit in face with baseball bat during attempted robbery

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24-year-old Harish Venkatraman was hit in the face with a baseball bat by robbers near the University of Minnesota campus Sunday night.

A University of Minnesota student was hit in the face with a baseball bat when a group of teenagers attempted to rob him Sunday night, according to a release.

Now, two of the young men targeted by the group of juveniles are warning others to make safety a top priority while walking in the area.

The robbery took place at 9:30 p.m. on 15th Avenue Southeast just south of Rollins Avenue in Minneapolis' Como neighborhood, according to a crime alert from the university. A group of eight people between the ages of 12 to 15 approached the victim and demanded he give them his valuables. When the victim refused, one of the suspects hit him with the bat.

“It was bright, it wasn’t even dark. It was 9:15,” said Harish Venkatraman, a 24-year-old graduate assistant at the U who is working toward his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. "“I was on my bike and [my roommate] was walking right beside me.”

Venkatraman had just wrapped up his studies for the night with his roommate, Argah Banergee, a Physics Ph.D. student, and headed home along 15th Avenue toward the underpass just south of Rollins Avenue SE when they were targeted by a group of juveniles.

Despite their use of the buddy system as they traveled, neither was prepared for what transpired.

“One of the male guys he just approached me and he asked me for my wallet," Venkatraman said. "I told him I didn’t even understand his accent--because his accent was weird--so I couldn’t understand at first, and I just started looking away from him and he just... swung at me. He beat me with his bat."

Venkatraman sustained the blows with minor wounds to his face and somehow managed to keep his wallet and the situation from escalating.

“He could’ve had a gun or something like that so I didn’t want to take the risk," he said. "I just kept walking on.” 

The teens dispersed, Venkatraman called 911 himself and Minneapolis police were on the scene within minutes. The Ph.D. student was then transported by ambulance to the hospital.

Officers located and arrested two of the suspects, according to the police report. One suspect was struck by a car as he fled from police, also receiving treatment at the same hospital as Venkatraman.

Officers later booked the suspects into the Juvenile Detention Center for aggravated robbery.

The suspects who were not arrested are described as five black males and one black female. One was described as 5' 7'' with short dreadlocks, wearing a black shirt with writing on the back and gray pants. The female was described as 5' 4'' to 5' 6'' with a light build, wearing a bare-stomached shirt and shorts.

Although cameras are in the area where the crime occurred, the off-campus underpass is heavily traveled by University of Minnesota students.

“That makes me worry a little bit because I never worried about kids younger than me assaulting anyone,” UMN student Tabitha Sellers said.

Both Venkatraman and Banergee ask everyone in the are to make safety a top priority when traveling in by foot, even if they’re with a trusted friend.

“It’s always been a bit shady, so probably avoid that area," Banergee said. "If you see groups of three or four waiting there at the underpass stop, don’t go in. Go toward Dinkytown, which is more crowded. You can’t be marked easily, and just be careful.” 

“I warn the undergrad students to be especially careful because they probably hang out a lot during the night time. It's probably much more risky for them than it is for us grad students,” Venkatraman said. “I probably won’t make that mistake again. I’ll just go in my car next time.”

In a “Timely Warning” alert to students, University of Minnesota officials urge any student who is the victim of a crime or witness a crime to call 911 immediately.

Minneapolis Police are investigating this crime. Anyone with information is asked to call the Minneapolis Police Department at 612-692-TIPS (8477) and reference case number MP-17-216008.

Both Minneapolis Police and the University of Minnesota News Service declined to comment about the incident.