Deputies step up patrols near Mercer University following shooting, stickups

Britt Smith, with Mercer University's physical plant, installs a sign warning of security cameras in Mercer Village.
Britt Smith, with Mercer University's physical plant, installs a sign warning of security cameras in Mercer Village.

Bibb County sheriff's deputies and Mercer University police are stepping up patrols around Tattnall Square Park and Mercer Village after reports of two armed robberies and a shooting near there.

Mercer police are paying particular attention to areas near bridges that feed into the commercial district near campus, and workers have busy this week installing "highly visible" signs where security cameras are located, underscoring the presence of the cameras.

A Mercer student from Perry reported the first stickup the afternoon of Jan. 10.

According to an incident report, it was about noon when Logen Williams went to walk in the park between classes.

While the 19-year-old was using the restroom near the tennis courts, a man “slipped under the stall and confronted him,” he told investigators. The man rummaged through Williams’ backpack, demanding his wallet and money.

Williams told investigators that the man broke his cellphone trying to turn it off. The man also showed Williams "what he believed was cocaine" and told Williams he had "just gotten out of prison for another felony,” according to a sheriff deputy’s write-up of the incident.

The robber also said “don't contact the police" and "tell your people we are not just bums on the street," Williams said.

The thief, described as a black man about 5 feet 7 inches tall, appeared to be leaving when a county public works employee walked in to clean the restroom.

Williams also said the robber had “used his shoelaces and string from his hoodie to tie him up in the stall,” the report said. Fearing the robber had a weapon, Williams didn’t move. The thief untied Williams and walked out of the restroom with him, the report said.

The robber walked toward the parking lot, and Williams walked toward campus.

Investigators found no fingerprints on Williams’ cellphone. Williams said that was because the man "used alcohol wipes to wipe off everything he touched,” the report said.

The bandit stole $4 cash.

Later that evening, near the opposite side of the park, a man reportedly fired shots at a group of Mercer University students near Linden Avenue and Coleman Street. No one was hurt in the 10 p.m. shooting, and the gunman ran off.

Mercer President Bill Underwood announced that a $10,000 reward was being offered for information leading to the gunman’s arrest, and authorities have received tips in the case since then.

Underwood told Mercer students and employees in an email this week that administrators have talked with "two of the leading experts in the country" on emergency alert procedures and are implementing improvements to the university's alert system.

A few days later, on Jan. 14, a 32-year-old Columbus woman was robbed at gunpoint at the park’s restrooms near College Street.

Elaine Pham told investigators she walked inside the restroom when she was confronted by a man toting a small, silver handgun.

The man pointed the gun at her and went through her purse, a report said. Pham said the man took her phone, her designer wallet and a Wells Fargo bag that contained about $2,500 in cash.

The robber was described as a black man, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, who wore an orange or dark-colored jacket.

A woman who lives on Adams Street called with more information for police after learning about the robbery.

The woman said she had come home to feed her dogs about 1 p.m. and had spotted a man running through the park near Oglethorpe Street. The woman told investigators she thought it suspicious because the man wasn’t wearing jogging clothes, but an orange jacket with light-colored jeans.

Authorities have not said whether the same suspect is believed to be responsible for crimes.

A little more than a mile from the park, at Mercer University's law school, a 47-year-old woman reported that she was carjacked at Coleman Hill on Jan. 12.

Tammy Ratzken told deputies she was talking on the phone, about to leave, when a man who had been sitting on a nearby bench brandished a black handgun, demanding money, according to an incident report The Telegraph obtained on Thursday.

Ratzken told the man she didn't have any money, and the two walked toward her 2002 Honda Oddesy, where the man ordered her to get in, the report said. Ratzken refused and told the man she had money in her purse.

The robber wouldn't let Ratzken get her purse because "she said he told her that he thought she might have a gun," the report said.

The robber continued ordering Ratzken to get in her car, but she refused. Eventually, the robber "pushed her out of the way, grabbed her keys and cellphone" and took off, the report said.

Ratzken's purse, which contained her wallet, license and bank cards, was inside the car.

Anyone with information about any of the crimes is asked to call the Bibb County Sheriff's Office at 478-751-7500, Mercer Police Department at 478-301-4357, or call Macon Regional Crimestoppers at 1-877-68-CRIME.