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Duke student shot during struggle with would-be robber

Posted August 9, 2009
Updated August 13, 2009

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— A Duke student struggled with a man who tried to rob him, resulting in gunfire that wounded him and possibly the would-be robber, Durham police said.

Ulisses Gurgel, 22, and a woman were walking in the 500 block of Watts Street shortly before midnight Saturday when a man armed with a gun approached them from behind, police said. He ordered the pair to put their hands on their heads and started to search them.

A struggle ensued over the gun, and two shots were fired, police said. Gurgel was shot in the abdomen, and the attempted robber fled.

"I was pretty sure that it was shots, not firecrackers. ... It was like right here, and the woman, she was screaming her guts out,” said Anita Akella, a Duke graduate student who lives nearby.

Gurgel was treated at a nearby hospital. The woman was uninjured.

The gunman was limping when he fled and might have been shot, police said. He was described as black, approximately 40 years old, 5 feet 11 inches tall, with a stocky build. He has bulging eyes. He wore a gray shirt and dark jeans.

The shooting happened one block from Duke's East Campus, where first-year students are to move in next week.

Graduate student Melanie Oberman said the shooting happened outside the apartment she recently rented.

"I definitely don't feel comfortable living in the house until I have security put in," she said. "I had no idea that something could happen right outside my door like that."

Residents said Trinity Park neighborhood has long been a safe area.

“It makes me very sad, more than it does fearful," homeowner Sally Spears said. "But the world we live in now has turned into the situation that it is."

Anyone with any information about the shooting should call Crime Stoppers at 919-683-1200. Crime Stoppers pays cash rewards for information leading to arrests in felony cases, and callers never have to identify themselves.


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  • AtALost Aug 10, 2009

    Anyone not aware of the dangers in Durham or any city just isn't paying attention. Walking in an un-gated, residential neighborhood near midnight is risky. Fewer people are out and the Police can't be everywhere at once. It may be instinct to fight back, but it's still stupid. Just as turning into a spin isn't instinctive, it's the correct thing to do. The perp fired the gun so the outcome could have been tragic. If the worst happens, most will agree the victim should have complied as long as he wasn't trying to take them somewhere. If these students had guns, they likely would have been stolen since they were oblivious to their surroundings. It's not a matter of accepting this behavior, it's reality. Disliking it doesn't make your money/life any less vulnerable. Even with harsher punishments, there will still be risks. New criminals are born daily and plea bargaining/probation probably won't stop. It's up to the individual to use common sense to stay as safe as possible.

  • lb27608 Aug 10, 2009

    "Sadly, Durham does have an extremely high crime rate."

    No, it doesn't. It has an average to below-average crime rate for cities that are similar in population (http://www.thedurhamnews.com/news/story/198731.html).

    "It has been that way for many years, and shows little if any improvement."

    The overall crime rate in Durham has been dropping fairly steadily for the past several years. Check out the FBI statistics. While I don't believe that any crime should be tolerated, I do think that actual facts (and not false perceptions) should be used when discussing the relative safety of different places.

  • apoea Aug 10, 2009

    Well, I don't think it was stupid for the student to try to defend himself and his friend. Who knows what the robber could have done? Sadly, many people have been killed in cold blood over a few dollars, so I think he was just doing the instinctive thing. Hope he's going to be ok. As for the robber, maybe he learned a lesson.

  • readme Aug 10, 2009

    "why are people walking outside at midnight....commonsense people...really...all that aside i hope for a speedy recovery." Wow, so let's just turn over the city to the felons after 11pm. Personally, I'd like to live in a society where I could walk outside at midnight, especially if I am not alone. Can we please stop this blame the victim mentality. If you guys want to accept a society where anything left out is stolen and anyone walking at night is mugged, move back to where you came from. I would rather fight it and see if we can't have a better city. And we do that by severly punishing those people who threaten our way of life like this loser. I'm not a lawyer but I believe we got him on robbery and attempted murder so far.

  • FE Aug 10, 2009

    Interestingly enough, today's News & Observer states the robbery occurred at "around 4 am."

    Not that the time changes things, but one would think the two news sources would be a bit more consistent.


  • tsquaring Aug 10, 2009

    Doesn't Durham have gun registration?

  • Fed-up29 Aug 10, 2009

    why are people walking outside at midnight....commonsense people...really...all that aside i hope for a speedy recovery.

  • issymayake Aug 10, 2009


    you make more sense than most. I feel sorry for the victim and his friend and hope they recover quickly this traumatic experience.

  • frosty Aug 10, 2009

    Durham is a good learning area for Duke's students. They can learn the habits of staying in the safe confines of the elite areas and avoiding the areas that many don't want to know exist.

    Personal security is an valuable life lesson that many young people lack, besides the young's natural belief in their own immortality.

    Those lesions will stand them in good stead when they continue their careers in Cities like New York, Chicago and LA.

    Who knows what may happen. I have heard that many liberals are one mugging away from being a conservative.

    Of course Duke is not alone in that situation, many schools are now located in or close to less than safe areas.

  • bradh2 Aug 10, 2009

    "but i don't love the idea of a bunch of drunken frat boys packing heat either. it would sure come in handy in situations like this, but might also come into play in otherwise minor traffic incidents, or someone getting a bad grade or something."

    If that were the case, there should be thousands of shootings every week by concealed carry holders that are not college students. There are armed students living off-campus that are forced to leave their guns at home and yet somehow manage not to shoot anyone over the issues you mention. Students should be allowed to defend themselves like anyone else provided they meet the legal requirements and receive the proper training.