TAMPA — As students started filing back into campus housing and off-campus apartments this week, they got two sad reminders that their lives could change in a matter of seconds.
A Hillsborough Community College student was robbed and raped in her apartment Monday, and a University of Tampa student was shot and killed during a robbery Wednesday morning.
Officials at HCC, UT and the University of South Florida, all said the two incidents have created heightened safety awareness as each school prepares to welcome students for the fall semester.
Of particular importance, officials said, is that students be aware when they go off campus.
Ryan P. McCall, 21, who ran track for UT, was walking home at 3 a.m. from the Retreat, a local bar, when he and a friend visiting from out of town were stopped by a man with a gun on the N Boulevard bridge. His friend ran and McCall was killed by the gunman.
UT spokesman Eric Cardenas said the university is generally safe, but when students wander from campus, they can face risks.
"We are an urban university, and I think there's a lot of positives with that, but there are other things we have to deal with as well," he said.
Two days earlier, a Hillsborough Community College student was taking out the trash in her apartment complex at 4010 N Lois Ave., when a teen who offered to help threatened her with a butcher knife, tied her up, stole her debit card and forced her to perform oral sex.
"Its even more important that our students and staff remain very cognisant of their surroundings and be vigilant about not traveling alone if they don't have to," HCC spokeswoman Ashley Carl said.
Some area schools are launching safety campaigns to ensure students know where to turn in dangerous situations.
At USF, where students began moving onto campus Wednesday, the school is giving out whistle keychains with safety contacts listed on them, including phone numbers for cabs, police and on-campus transportation.
"We are asking them to become wise about the environment they live in," said USF vice president Jennifer Meningall.
There was an outpouring of emotion from UT track athletes, and the team will no longer run along the North Boulevard bridge for training, said cross-country coach Jarrett Slaven.
"For emotional reasons more than anything," Slaven said.
Cardenas said the school educates students during orientation about the risks that come with being so close to the city's downtown. "We're not immune to crimes," he said.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or firstname.lastname@example.org