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New London - Daniel H. says he walked out of his studio apartment Aug. 14, 2010, and stepped straight into hell.
The 22-year-old was walking to Hanafin's Pub to meet a friend for a late-night drink when he saw a group of young men. As they walked ahead of him on Broad Street, he says, they started looking back and whispering. Daniel, who is 5 feet, 6 inches tall and "not athletic," tried to appear nonchalant.
"I think they saw me and decided, this would be easy."
Approaching the corner of Broad and Hempstead streets, he thought they were gone, but then, he says, there they were. One pulled a mask onto his face and carried something shiny - maybe a gun.
"They surrounded me. I couldn't really go anywhere."
Daniel has agreed to tell his story, but says he does not want to use his full name because he fears reprisal. Police are investigating, but they say the crime is difficult to solve since Daniel is unable to identify his assailants.
His attackers said, "You got anything on you?" and he told them, "Not much." They took off his eyeglasses and snapped them in half. They punched him in the face until he fell to the ground. They kicked him and went through his pockets. They took his wallet, which contained his identification and $40, and his cell phone.
"I was bleeding from every orifice on my face."
Throughout the ordeal, he says he clutched his chest to protect the pacemaker that keeps his heart beating. He was born with a heart defect and has undergone three open-heart surgeries.
"I was protecting what was important, trying to survive, because I thought I was going to die as soon as I looked at them. I think if I fought back I would have been killed."
The men were "river dancing" on his face, he says, until he was able to scream and get them away.
"I knew as they were running away and they were laughing at me that their day was going to come."
He drove himself to Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, where he said he was still dazed when a city police officer took a statement at 1:15 a.m. He could provide only a vague description of his attackers - four to six men, all dressed in black. He says he had a basal skull fracture and shoe prints on his forehead. He was bleeding out of his nose for a week, and he still has partial hearing loss as a result of being kicked in the ear.
Daniel's assailants stole his sense of safety along with the items they took from him that night. Three weeks later, he moved back into his mother's house in the small town north of Norwich where he grew up.
He says he was enjoying life in New London. Until the attack, he says he considered the city a great place for socializing and liked being able to walk to the local bars and restaurants. Now he says New London is a dangerous place.
"I was doing great, living on my own. I had a nice car, my own place, then boom."
Two months after Daniel was assaulted, 25-year-old Matthew Chew was fatally stabbed as he walked home from work.
Daniel saw the pictures of the six defendants in the paper and thought he recognized them as his attackers. He met with detectives but was unable to positively identify anyone.
"When I found out that kid died and was stabbed, I was pissed. I could relate."
Crimes slightly different
Deputy Chief Marshall Segar says Daniel has been cooperative with the investigation but has been unable to identify his assailants. He noted that the crimes are slightly different, since Chew was not robbed.
Segar said that this crime and similar assaults that have occurred in the city are difficult for police to solve because the assailants are masked or the victims were attacked from behind. The detective unit is continuing to work on the cases, he says.
"There's going to be a perception that these issues are somehow linked," Segar said. "There's going to be a perception that it is unsafe to be in certain areas of New London. I don't share that perception. And the police department is doing everything it can to ensure the safety of the citizens of this town."
Segar says staffing has been enhanced downtown since the Chew murder, and that the police have always been out in force for scheduled events and functions. The police department's two school resource officers, undercover Vice and Intelligence Section and street crimes unit, called the Anti-Violence Team, work together to combat the problem of youth violence, he says.
Daniel says he should have known better than to walk alone late at night but that he had lived in New London for a year without a problem.
"The local bars should warn people. If you're alone, you're in trouble. Even if you're in a group of two, you can still get jumped."
Daniel had been laid off from his job at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital five days before his attack. Had he been employed at the time of the attack, he says, he might have stuck it out and continued to live in the city.
He lives at home now and works part-time. If he has to come to New London to do banking, he stops nowhere else.
Daniel wonders about the lives of the people who attacked him, but really just wants to get on with his own life.
"I know that some of them are followers, and some of them are just rotten people."