Series of robberies strike heart of Oakland

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A string of brazen armed robberies, including of several University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University students, in North Oakland on Sunday night ended in the arrest of two suspected robbers and a warning from Pittsburgh police for residents to remain vigilant.

The alleged robbers, 24-year-old Keith Douglas Williams II and 42-year-old Derrick Nathaniel Bragg, were arrested near the supervised apartment building where they live in the 300 block of Melwood Avenue, about two blocks from where most of the robberies occurred. Both men were charged with robbery, conspiracy and, in Mr. Bragg's case, possession of a weapon, and were taken to Allegheny County Jail.

No one was harmed and no other suspects are believed to have been involved, police said.

Still, area residents need to remain alert, according to Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richards. People walking down the street should not let themselves get distracted by electronics, she said, and they should steer clear of strangers who approach them.

"There are predators out there, and they do mean to do you harm," she said at a press conference Monday.

Most of the robberies occurred in or near the busy intersection of North Craig and Bayard streets that is home to several upscale restaurants, a deli, a gas station, a bank and -- less than a block away -- Oakland Catholic High School. In all, nine people were robbed in six incidents, often minutes apart, even as police responded nearby.

At 9:15 p.m., Zone 4 officers were sent to the 4600 block of Bayard Street for a robbery report. There, a woman said she had been robbed of $100 by a man with a black gun -- later discovered to be a 5.5 mm Crosman BB gun that closely resembled a 9 mm handgun -- in front of her apartment building, according to a police criminal complaint.

Three minutes later, officers were sent to the intersection of Craig and Bayard for another report of a street robbery, which also occurred in the 4600 block of Bayard. There, a man was robbed of $765 and a calculator, while a woman's purse was stolen.

As police were responding to that robbery at 9:18 p.m., they received a report of a third robbery around the corner at Centre Avenue and Melwood Street -- a few hundred feet from where the suspects live -- according to police. There, a man threatened four men with a gun and robbed them after they withdrew money from an ATM.

At 10:15 p.m., another victim was robbed in a fourth incident as he was walking on North Craig toward Bayard. Five minutes later, Zone 4 officers were called to the 200 block of North Craig for yet another armed robbery report. And at 10:20 p.m., a man was robbed of $200 in the 4600 block of Centre Avenue, near the intersection with North Craig.

At 10:25 p.m., police spotted Mr. Bragg on the street at Gold Way and Truro Place, a few blocks from his apartment building. Officers confronted Mr. Bragg, who dropped a pistol as he ran away. A police K-9 "made the apprehension," according to police.

A short time later, Mr. Williams also was arrested after officers saw him standing in the street in the 300 block of Melwood.

Mr. Bragg was taken to UPMC Presbyterian to be treated for dog bite wounds, and he and Mr. Williams were taken to jail.

On Monday afternoon, few of the people waiting to cross the street at North Craig and Bayard had heard of the previous night's robbery spree.

But many said they already take precautions when walking through the area at night, when a seemingly innocuous, busy corner near the heart of Oakland becomes what several people called "sketchy."

Damara Kautz, a 22-year-old Pitt graduate student of geology who lives in an apartment building at the intersection, said she carries pepper spray, doesn't wear headphones and pulls a big hoodie over her hair at night to disguise that she's female.

Toni Van Vliet, a 23-year-old Pitt math student from State College, carries pepper spray, too, and has taken self-defense courses.

"I don't think you can ever really be ready for that, but it makes me feel more comfortable in the city," she said.


Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or Sadie Gurman contributed.


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