Mark Simone makes a living convincing people to move to Baltimore. Monday afternoon, he helped a couple from Minnesota, recently hired by Johns Hopkins Hospital, settle on a $280,000 rowhouse in Upper Fells Point.
Later that night, the 27-year-old real estate agent walked out of his own house in that same neighborhood and was jumped by a group of teenagers. They chased him, threw him to the ground, punched and kicked him and robbed him of his iPhone, $25 in cash and a black leather wallet.
"It was the scariest moment I've ever had," Simone said Thursday, as he recovered from the attack and contemplated his new dual role as both a city cheerleader and a victim of violent crime, the kind that has scared others into fleeing to the suburbs.
"We're not going anywhere," he said of himself and his wife. "But we definitely don't feel as comfortable in our own home as we did before. … We had a sense of security here which is totally gone." He said he's now considering getting a gun.
The attack on Simone was one of at least four violent robberies this week in residential blocks north of the touristy part of Fells Point — near Butchers Hill and west of Patterson Park — that has shaken residents and prompted area employers to warn their workers to be careful.
A handgun was used in one robbery, and at least two others involved up to 10 teens or young men. In one attack Tuesday night on South Ann Street, police said one of the attackers repeatedly shouted to the victim, "[Expletive] you white boy," as he and several other black youths beat him and stole his cell phone and $100.
Baltimore police said they are investigating that attack as a hate crime.
Though residents said they were told by police that the crimes were gang related, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said there have been no arrests. At least one of the robberies, an attack with a gun on South Chester Street early Tuesday, appears to be unrelated to the others. The attackers were described as white.
Simone lived in Mount Vernon for two years before moving to Upper Fells Point. He said his car has been broken into but before this week he'd never been a victim of a violent crime.
He had just finished sending a text message and put his iPhone in his pocket when he noticed the teens huddled around the entrance to a coin-operated laundry at Gough and Chapel streets. He said the oldest-looking in the group shouted, "You better not run."
Simone ran. He said the older youth caught up with him about two-thirds of the way down the block on Gough Street, wrapped his arm around his neck and took him to the ground. "I curled up in a fetal position against the curb," Simone said.
"I had my hands over my head trying to block my face," he said. "I was yelling at them to take whatever they wanted, which they did pretty quickly. I was screaming for help."
They took his wallet and phone and one youth picked up a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, but for some reason discarded them. Police took the pack into evidence for possible fingerprints.
Before this week, Simone told prospective homebuyers to check with police and neighbors for questions about safety. "Some people feel comfortable in different elements," he said. "That's the important part, for people to feel comfortable where they are living."
Now, Simone is no longer comfortable in his own home.
He insisted he remains "passionate about Baltimore" and that he's "not going to let a group of kids change that," but he said he's a bit more wary about his surroundings.
"We've talked about getting a gun," Simone said. "I think we're going to get one now. These guys have my ID. They have my license. They know where I live. I'm not a big guy. There's not much I can do to defend myself without having a weapon.
As a real estate agent, Simone said, he doesn't know yet what he'll tell clients who inquire whether a particular city neighborhood is safe. "If people ask if I've been attacked, I'm not going to lie. But I'm not going to be a walking advertisement for the dangers of city living."
The attack that police say they are investigating as a hate crime occurred Tuesday about 9:30 p.m. on Ann Street. The victim, a recruiter for an information technology company, said he was walking by himself when 10 teens started following him.
"Then they ran after me," said the victim, who was too frightened to allow his name to be published. "I had no time to react. Before I knew it they were punching me in the right side of the temple and then the left." He said they kicked him in the face as one repeatedly called him "white boy."
The man said he pretended to be unconscious until his attackers rummaged through his pants and took five $20 bills and his cell phone. He too has never been a victim of a violent crime. "Stuff goes on," he said, "but it's usually drug-related or gang-related and not random."