Police in Rehoboth Beach, Del., are on the lookout for a group of men suspected of being involved in a series of muggings along the beach’s south boardwalk within the course of nine days.
”The suspects are all male, African-American, older teens to early 20s, and slender,” says Rehoboth Beach Police Department Chief Keith W. Banks of four different incidents that occurred between July 16 and 25, involving five victims.
”All subjects are approximately six-foot tall and wearing black or dark clothing, and possibly driving a light grey, newer model of Chevrolet Impala with unknown tags.”
Among those who were attacked is Stephen Gerard Smith, a 47-year-old gay man from Odenton, Md.
Smith, who has traveled to Rehoboth Beach frequently since 1995, suffered a concussion, broken nose and bruises after being attacked by a group of men near where Stockley Street intersects with the boardwalk, during the early hours of Sunday, July 18.
”I’m numb right now,” Smith says. ”I have no emotion, I have no feeling over it. I’m completely void of emotion and I don’t know if that’s because I’m in some delayed sense of shock or what. I just don’t know.”
Other victims include two teenagers on July 16; a 74-year-old man on July 20; and most recently a Rehoboth resident attacked and robbed outside his home on Sunday, July 25, on Columbia Avenue, after two men knocked on his door for directions.
For Smith, the nightmare began after a night out with friends at the Double L Bar on Saturday, July 17. Smith decided to take a stroll on the boardwalk, what he describes as a ”sort of a tradition.”
But it wasn’t long before Smith woke up in a haze on the boardwalk, drenched in his own blood.
”When I woke up, I just knew something was wrong,” Smith says. ”My first sensation was that I was wet. There was blood all over me, and dripping off of me. It was all over my face and it was dripping down all over my clothes. I had a lot of sand on me as well.”
Smith would later recall that he was attacked shortly after walking past a group of men.
”I was just walking, and I noticed a shadow behind me, circling from behind. And that’s all that I remember.”
The attackers stole his wallet, which included about $40, but did not take his cell phone or watch.
According to police, Smith’s assault was not a bias-related incident. Instead like the four other victims, Banks says Smith was randomly mugged.
Rehoboth’s lesbian City Commissioner Patricia Coluzzi, who also serves as the city’s vice mayor, agrees with that assessment.
”It was not a gay bashing,” Coluzzi says. ”It was an opportunistic robbery, which is what they all have been. People who have since been attacked have not been gay or lesbian.”
Coluzzi adds that there were some initial concerns among the community that officers responding to the scene asked Smith whether he was gay and whether he had been soliciting, but adds that, ”I think the reason for that was that they were trying to understand if in fact it was a gay bashing.
”Those are the kinds of questions they have to ask in order to determine those kinds of things.”
Coluzzi says LGBT people traveling to Rehoboth should not be concerned about being targeted due to their orientation or gender identity.
”Right now, anybody who is out at night walking around” should be cautious, she says.
And while Smith agrees that he was not targeted for being gay, he’s concerned about what’s being done to prevent any more attacks.
”I’m thinking, [police] knew about mine, and you knew about the kid’s before me, why is this still going on? If it’s happening right around the same area, what measures are being taken? I’m hoping that somebody doesn’t have to be killed before someone does anything.”
According to Banks, Rehoboth police are taking extra measures, though she declined to lay out specifics.
”We’ve got some undercover officers and I’m kind of reluctant [to discuss details]. Obviously I want to catch them.”
Anyone with information regarding any of the Rehoboth attacks is asked to contact Rehoboth Police at 302-227-3577.