A 23-year-old Columbia man who is a reputed local gang member has been arrested and charged with armed robbery in a Monday holdup of Benedict College students near the downtown campus.
The suspect, Janerio Walker, is also being investigated in connection with other armed robberies at Allen University, Columbia College and the University of South Carolina, Benedict police chief Haywood Bazemore said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
The rash of robberies near Columbia’s downtown campuses has happened in the first few weeks of the students’ return. USC had one robbery that was actually on its campus and made an arrest in that case. Most of the suspects have been armed.
Walker is now in the county’s Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center under no bond. He is not a Benedict student, Bazemore said. The chief would not say which gang Walker is supposed to be affiliated with.
Three other men believed to be connected with the Monday robbery have been taken into custody but have not been charged with that crime, he said.
In making the announcement, Bazemore urged students to travel in groups, stay aware of their surroundings and be ready to run.
Students “make good prey” for robbers, Bazemore said, since many students walk around with earbuds in their ears and are otherwise inattentive to their surroundings.
The incident that Walker was arrested for happened around 11 p.m. Monday night at Benedict Community Park at the coroner of Hyatt and Laurel streets, he said.
A dark-colored, four-door Dodge truck was identified as the getaway vehicle, he said. Three other men were in the truck, which was spotted on Tuesday at the coroner of Two Notch and Taylor streets, he said.
After getting a consent to search the truck, police found on the backside passenger floor a loaded, .40 caliber Taurus handgun believed to have been used in the robbery, he said. It was covered with a shirt.
The robber took cellphones, money and “other personal items,” Bazemore said. He declined to say whether those items had been recovered.
Other college-related armed robberies in the Benedict and Allen area include:
• At 10:15 p.m. Aug. 3, four men walking near 1400 Harden St., across from the Richland County Administration Building, were approached by three men, one of them carrying a gun. The suspects demanded the victims’ belongings but ran off without taking anything.
• At 10:15 p.m. Aug. 4, a man walking with friends on the 1400 block of Heidt Street was approached by a suspect with a gun tucked in his pants. The man’s cellphone and tennis shoes were stolen.
• At 1:45 a.m. Aug. 11, a man walking through a parking lot at 2436 Taylor St. was approached by two men armed with a gun who demanded his cellphone. After he turned it over to them, the suspects ran off.
• Around 9:30 p.m. Aug. 12, four Allen University students walking near Hampton and Oak streets were approached by three men who held them at gunpoint. The suspects were dressed in red shirts and pants, and one was wearing a USC baseball cap. Cellphones were stolen from the students.
Bazemore said local police departments are cooperating in the ongoing investigation.