A reporter with The Epoch Times’ sister media outlet was robbed at gunpoint on Jan. 28 right outside her apartment complex in Washington, D.C., raising concerns about the area’s rising crime rate as well as questions about whether the robbery was more than a random act.
“Give me your phone,” was the first thing that Iris Tao, a White House reporter for NTD, heard right as she stepped outside the apartment complex.
Tao was confronted by a slim black man about 6 feet tall, wearing black from head to toe, including a black ski mask, black hat, black coat, and black pants with white stripes, the reporter recalled. He pointed a handgun at her, from about two feet away.
It was about 8:30 a.m., with no one else around. Before she could react, the man reached directly into the pocket of her puffer jacket where the phone was and snatched it from her, she said.
“Give me your wallet,” the man then demanded. “Otherwise, I’m going to hit you and smack you,” Tao recalled to The Epoch Times. The man also asked for Tao’s laptop, but pressed for her wallet when she maintained that she had only books with her.
With no other choice, she removed a pencil case that contained only a metro card from her backpack. The man, apparently uninterested, demanded her phone password. When Tao refused, he hit her in the face with the gun, leaving a red mark on her cheek before he dashed off into a nearby apartment building.
“Once he started running away from me, I started yelling: ‘Help, help, help,’” Tao said. Two neighbors came out and helped Tao call the police.
While the man was seen on camera entering a building a block away, police were unable to enter the structure. When Tao last checked her phone location signal a few hours later before losing access, the man was in a different building about a 15-minute drive away.
The neighborhood in southwest D.C. where Tao lives, about two miles from the Capitol, has a historically high crime rate, Tao learned from Officer Michael Kim from the city police’s Asian Liaison Office, who has worked in the area for about a decade. Kim suspects the man lives nearby, since he has security access to that building, according to Tao.
D.C. police didn’t respond by press time to an inquiry from The Epoch Times about the case.
From Jan. 1 through Jan. 27, the Metropolitan Police Department recorded 2,190 crimes, including 156 robberies, up 16 percent from the same period in 2022.
U.S. neighborhood analytics database NeighborhoodScout gives Washington a ranking of 2 out of 100 on safety scores, and describes it as “safer than 2 percent of U.S. cities.”
While Tao was calm throughout the incident, different scenarios later started to play out in her head.
“If I tried to fight him, would he try to actually shoot me or hit me even worse?” she wondered.
Still unsure about how she became a target, Tao nonetheless observed multiple unusual points about the encounter that she can’t quite answer.
“Why would he be right outside of our apartment?” she said.
Unlike most scenarios, in which a thief might demand money, the man seemed to show more interest in her phone and laptop than cash. In addition, he somehow knew she was carrying a phone even though it wasn’t visible from the outside, and he reached right away for the correct pocket.
The fact that he asked for the phone pin code was “even more suspicious,” Tao said, as normally such phones would be wiped and resold, and therefore access to the phone is unnecessary.
Tao counted herself lucky for coming off only slightly injured, but that wasn’t the case for Sarah Liang, a reporter with the Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times.
In May 2021, Liang was assaulted by a man wielding an aluminum bat outside her apartment building that left her with bruises on both legs, the latest in a series of attacks believed to have been orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a campaign to silence independent reporting. From its inception, The Epoch Times has drawn the ire of the regime in Beijing for its unfiltered reporting of the CCP’s vast rights abuses and corruption.
A month prior to the attack, Liang had noticed a man stalking her outside a local transit station, and two days earlier, a different man claiming to be delivering a large package knocked on her door and addressed her by name. The man claimed the package was sent from someone overseas, but Liang didn’t recognize the sender and wasn’t expecting any delivery. The facial features of both men were partly obscured by masks.
Three days before the armed robbery, Tao was at a White House press briefing with John Kirby, the spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
“Does the U.S. believe that new number by the Chinese government saying that there’s been 70,000 deaths?” she asked.
“We have continued to encourage the Chinese to be cooperative with international reviews and studies about COVID, and they have not been fully transparent,” Kirby said in response. “And we cannot speak to the veracity of those numbers. We urge China to be fully transparent about what’s going on.”