Robbers toss pair into river

Waterfront Park

Two local college students sitting on the pier at Waterfront Park were beaten, robbed, forced to strip and then tossed naked into the Cooper River, according to a police report.

"I felt safe there before," one of the victims, 20-year-old John Shafer of West Ashley said Wednesday. "I don't feel that way anymore."

When Charleston Mayor Joe Riley learned of the crime, he called the homes of both victims.

Police Chief Greg Mullen briefed Riley on the incident, which took place last week, and gave Riley the victims' phone numbers, the mayor said Wednesday.

"I just called to say I was sorry the incident had occurred," Riley said. "I knew that it was upsetting for those young people."

Riley said the crime was unusual, and so was the fact that it happened in Waterfront Park. "It's a very safe place, and we're proud of that," Riley said. "Something like this has never happened."

According to the incident report, police were called to the Harbourview Inn on Vendue Range about 2:30 a.m. Nov. 23 by a hotel employee who said a male and female had walked into the lobby naked and covered in mud. The couple told the employee they had been robbed, the report said.

Shafer, who attends Trident Technical College, told police that he and his girlfriend, a 19-year-old College of Charleston student, had gone to the park around 12:40 a.m. and were sitting near the end of the pier, where there were two other couples. One couple left about 1:15 a.m. The remaining couple walked over and asked what time it was, then approached the victims, with the female grabbing the female victim by the hair and slapping her in the face, the report said.

The male assailant punched Shafer several times and Shafer bit the robber in the hand, the report said. The robbers told the victims they had a knife and ordered them to turn over their money and cell phones. The victims surrendered a black iPhone 3G, and a red Nokia phone, a silver ring with the word "Love" written on it, two debit cards, keys and a wallet.

"When we didn't have any cash on us, the woman said to the guy, 'I think we're going to have to kill him,' " Shafer said.

"It was weird. I thought, 'These thoughts that I am having are the thoughts I am having just before I die.' "

The robbers ordered the victims to remove their clothing, then threw them into the river, the report said. Their clothing was thrown in after them.

"The minute I was in the water, I thought, 'I am in the water. I can swim over to the pier and hold on,' " Shafer said. He was worried because his girlfriend was still up on the pier with the robbers, he said. "Then they threw her in."

Shafer said they stayed in the water for a long time because they were afraid the robbers were looking for them. They came ashore near the State Ports Authority building and walked to the hotel.

The report said both victims were covered in mud and had multiple cuts and bruises on their legs and faces. Charleston County EMS was summoned to check them out. Both declined to be taken to a hospital.

Shafer said he had a black eye that is healing. Other physical injuries are healing too, but he is still reeling emotionally, he said. "It almost feels as if it should have been a movie or a dream," he said. "I know it sounds kind of outlandish. It's hard for me to believe it happened."

He said the park should have more security cameras and he urged park visitors to be careful. "If somebody asks you the time downtown, your best response might be to leave," he said.

Both robbers were described as being black, 25 to 35 years old, 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 9 inches tall. The male had light brown skin, a mustache and goatee, with short-cut hair. He was wearing blue jeans and a blue or gray T-shirt that may have had a logo. The female had blond braids or cornrows on top of her head.

Reach David W. MacDougall at 937-5655.