Late on a Thursday night in March, Kamyar Mirfakhraie ’25 was walking to a pick-up soccer game when he felt something hit his jacket. He looked up to see four people in a black car shooting pellets at him — and then felt one strike his hand.
“My first instinct was to brush it off … physically it wasn’t too bad,” Mirfakhraie said. “But psychologically, that was the more damaging part. All of a sudden a car drives up and attacks you and you can’t even really fight back. You’re just a victim.” The incident left red welts on his hand.
Since that incident, the Department of Public Safety has sent emails about nine other students being struck by projectiles fired from vehicles near campus.
DPS sent an email to the University community about the most recent incident on Sept. 17. According to the report, three students walking on Angell Street were struck by projectiles fired from a car driving north on Brook Street. The projectiles hit one student in the head and two in the throat, though none sustained injuries, the email said.
Rodney Chatman, vice president for public safety and chief of DPS, said that projectiles fired on College Hill fit into a national trend. He noted a TikTok challenge from the spring which involved participants firing projectiles — such as Orbeez balls, a brand of absorbent water beads, and pellets — at bystanders.
The incidents near campus have not been clustered on certain days of the week or in specific areas, Chatman said. Instead, they are “randomly popping up, which makes it difficult for us to have a meaningful strategy beyond (sharing information) with our community members and our officers,” he said.
There have been no reported injuries caused by the projectiles, but Chatman said that they still have the potential to cause physical harm and noted that “people can be emotionally devastated” by these occurrences.
Madeline Wachsmuth ’25 was walking back with a group of friends from a student performance in April when multiple people present were struck by projectiles. The incident made her feel less safe while walking around campus, she said.
That night, a brown car sped toward Wachsmuth’s group near the Biomedical Center on Brown Street, slowed down and opened its windows, she said. Someone from the car fired a BB gun into the crowd, prompting the group to dodge the pellets and scatter, Wachsmuth said. While no one was hurt, she described feeling “intense anxiety” in that moment.
Marcos Montoya Andrade ’25 was walking with a group of friends down Brown Street last April when a white car fired pellets at the group. Since then, he has continued to hear about people being hit by projectiles. Whenever a car speeds by, he and his friends get scared.
“You always have that fear,” Montoya Andrade said. Wachsmuth explained similarly that when cars slow down near her — even if just stopping at a stop sign — she finds herself wondering if they pose a threat.
Earlier this month, Wachsmuth witnessed the aftermath of another group of students being shot with BB guns outside of Josiah’s. She did not see any notification of the incident until a few hours later — and said that “it would have been nice to get that notification sooner.”
Montoya Andrade’s incident in April was one of three reported to DPS that night, according to the email sent to the student body. When he called DPS to report the incident, he said he was “stunned” to hear that they already had received reports about similar occurrences from that night. “It felt like they didn't really do anything about it,” he said.
“For the students, it doesn't really feel like (DPS has) done much,” Montoya Andrade said. “I get these emails, and we always laugh about it because we're like, ‘dang, this is really never going to end?’”
Chatman said that “through some investigative efforts on our own, we've been able to identify cars, and we've passed that information on to Providence (Police Department).”
In response to the incidents, Chatman said that DPS has reallocated staff to have a greater presence in areas where people have reported cars firing projectiles. DPS communicates closely with PPD, Chatman said, and he urged any concerned community member to make a report immediately.
“We want to get to a place where our community members trust us enough to report things when they are just suspicious,” he said. “When we facilitate communication with our community, it makes the community safer.”
Additional reporting by Emma Madgic.
Elysee Barakett is a senior staff writer for Metro. She mainly covers activism in Providence. She is a part of the class of 2025 and studies International and Public Affairs on the Policy and Governance Track.