The company I work for—Wisewire—is pretty modern and gives me the freedom to work from home. So on Thursdays and Fridays, that’s exactly what I do. Around 1:45 p.m. last Friday, June 17, I decided it was time to go for a walk, and about thirty seconds after closing the garage door, I was assaulted and had my iPhone stolen. Here’s what I felt and learned over the next four hours.

1. Don’t underestimate the value of Find My iPhone.

After two or three seconds of feeling shocked and angry, my mind made the leap to resolution: Find My iPhone was the key. I went back inside and went straight to my computer so I could quickly tell people via Facebook not to call or text me and so I could either track down my phone or erase its contents (this is not recommended, though; see number 2). But Find My iPhone didn’t seem to be working. Had the thief already managed to deactivate it? Had he turned my iPhone off, thus rendering the feature useless until he decided to turn the phone back on? I’ll never know for sure, but what I do know is that Find My iPhone is one of the only reasons my case was resolved in about four hours—or at all. In fact, I had my phone back in under two hours; not long after that, my attacker was in custody, and we had tangible proof of his guilt.

2. Call the police first. They get stuff done.

The Baltimore Police Department has suffered a lot of bad press, at least in the last year or so. My only real experience with them up to now was through a good friend who was violated and found justice when it didn’t seem possible. The BPD came through for my friend, and they ultimately came through for me. I called them after my initial attempt to track down my phone (my reason for trying Find My iPhone first was that I thought doing so would help the investigation; to be clear, I had no intention of becoming a vigilante—not for one hard punch and a damn phone—but instead intended to turn over the information to the BPD).

By about 2 p.m., I was in the back of a police car, on my way to the East Baltimore station to give my statement, frustrated that Find My iPhone hadn’t worked when I actually needed it. During the brief interview, the investigator asked if I had Find My iPhone turned on, and I said I thought so but that I had already tried it and it hadn’t worked. So we went to another officer who had an iPhone, and I gave him my credentials to try it one more time.

Bingo. The last known location of my phone (i.e., where it was the last time it was on and connected to the Internet) was downtown Baltimore, not far from my house. But this wasn’t specific enough. And it was an old location. The phone could have been turned off, the SIM removed, or any number of things done to circumvent Find My iPhone. The officers looked at the map. Thought about it for a second. Then I saw how police think.

“What’s over there?” the investigator said. “Isn’t there an electronics store in that area?”

“A pawn shop.”

Ten minutes later, I found myself in the back of another police vehicle, slightly cozier than the first one, with seats that weren’t made of plastic. An officer and the investigator for my case sat in front, while the first officer I dealt with followed us in another car. We were on our way to that pawn shop. To my surprise, this small, insignificant case was not so insignificant after all. We sped. We went through red lights occasionally, and they complained about traffic and civilian drivers. All the while, they conversed about personal matters and about police procedure, and they included me, talked to me like a person.

At the pawn shop, I was able to immediately identify and unlock my phone. It hadn’t been wiped. My phone case (which I had purchased after painstaking research) had been discarded, along with my dignity, and my SIM card was who-knows-where, but it was my phone all right. The police asked for the records of the seller, and the shop manager complied. He had a copy of my attacker’s ID.

“That’s him,” I said.

We went to the address on my attacker’s ID, and as I watched from the back seat of the car, they knocked on his door. He wasn’t home. Of course he wasn’t home.

A group of young people stood outside on the sidewalk—casually glancing over, as rubber-neckers must do. The officer I first interacted with stood outside the car. The door opened. He leaned down.

“Is that him?” he said. “The fat guy?”

I don’t know why I felt sorry for him—with all the “fat guy” talk I had heard that afternoon—but I did. A little. Nonetheless, I looked at this hulking figure who stood on the sidewalk with friends. I examined his appearance. I knew from seeing his ID that he was 300 pounds and 19 years old, so I already knew that my statement had been off. (I had estimated about 190 pounds, possibly more, and age 16–18.) Now I was seeing the difference firsthand. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if it was him. He was wearing what I had described, but he seemed bigger and older in person.

The investigator and two officers approached him.

3. A 150-pound quiet guy can take a punch to the ear from a 300-pound lunatic without passing out on the spot.

But not without enduring twenty or thirty minutes of halo vision, a headache for several hours, an aching ear for a couple of days, and a skewed perception of some basic facts. The trauma of my attack is likely what made identifying the young man so complicated.

First, there’s the physical trauma. I was disoriented after he punched me, and I hit the wall of the building next to me. So it makes sense that my perception of his weight was off. At least I remembered the color of his shirt and the fact that he looked like a teenager.

Second, the emotional trauma. While I sort of saw him on the sidewalk, the attack came out of nowhere. He waited until he was right next to me before showing any sign of aggression, and perhaps this is the scariest part of the whole ordeal: one never knows when something like this is going to happen. Because of course people aren’t going to broadcast their evil intentions until they have to. It all happens very quickly, and there’s not much time (or maybe you’re physically unable) to accurately soak in the attacker’s appearance.

Despite the trauma, though, I remembered some key details, and thanks to Find My iPhone and the BPD, the case was resolved in about four hours. The BPD acknowledged that these kinds of incidents don’t usually have such a quick and successful resolution. I was lucky. All I had to do was get a new SIM card and order a new phone case.

So what else did I learn that day?

4. Pawn shops are supposed to make sure a phone is erased before they accept it.

I don’t know if it’s actually a law, but the woman at AT&T, where I got a new SIM card free of charge, told me about this procedure. The pawn shop in question didn’t follow it, and I’m actually grateful for that. My phone would have been far more difficult to identify if it had been erased (although Apple’s Activation Lock feature might have helped). But if the pawn shop manager had rejected the phone as he was apparently supposed to, the attacker might have taken it somewhere else, and both he and the phone might have disappeared into obscurity.

So in the end, if Find My iPhone was the map to resolution, the pawn shop’s acceptance of a stolen device (and subsequent records) was the key to opening the door.

5. Earbuds do make you a target for attack. Really.

I don’t usually wear earbuds outside, because I know this general rule, but on June 17, I happened to be listening to music on my iPhone as I stepped out. I paid the price for making myself an easy target.

What are the chances, really? I don’t know the statistics, but now I know that it can happen to me. Even in my own “back yard.”

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2 thoughts on “5 Lessons I Learned from Being Mugged in Baltimore

  1. I am so sorry you had to endure this trauma! Thank you for sharing your experience making others aware of how easily unexpected events like this can happen to unsuspecting people. Take care of yourself Roger.

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