Medical researcher Lawrence Hsieh, schooled in Taekwondo, didn’t have time to defend himself when a kid KO’ed him on Church Street in one of six assaults in two days that appear to mimic a violent game hitting the East Coast.
Walking on the overpass between North and South Frontage at 5:30 p.m., Hsieh (pictured above) encountered a group of three young men. Without warning, one approached him and sucker-punched him in the nose, knocking Hsieh to the ground. The assailant and his buddies took off down the street, laughing.
“The whole ordeal was over in 30 seconds,” said Hsieh, who may have broken his nose as a result.
Hseih’s attacker was following the script of the so-called “Knockout Game,” which consists of punching random strangers. To become a “Knockout King,” the player must bring his target to the ground with one jab.
Five other similar attacks took place near Hsieh’s in the early evening hours on Monday and Tuesday. All were near the train station, the Church Street South housing project, and Church Street, according to top Hill South cop Lt. Joe Witkowski.
“The common thing seems to be there’s no attempt at theft. It’s an unprovoked assault,” Witkowski said.
Based on similar reports, attackers may be motivated by malice, machismo, or glory, in the form of Internet fame. Video footage of attacks can go viral.
The pattern: a group of males approaches, somebody hits the victim, then everyone flees, according to Witkowski. None of the victims suffered “serious” or life-threatening injuries, he said.
Police haven’t identified the attackers yet. Witkowski said he “guesses” the same group is responsible for all the attacks.
The phenomenon is new, he said. “I don’t think we’ve seen this anywhere I’m aware of around the city.”
Six in Two Nights
The first attack took place Monday at 7 p.m., according to Witkowski. A group of six to eight young men approached a 28-year-old man between Union and Columbus avenues. One punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Then they all ran.
A half hour later, a group of young men faced off with a 29-year-old man a block away at Church Street South and Union. One struck the man, again in the face, and again they all fled.
On Tuesday, right around the same time of Hsieh’s attack, eight males descended on a 30-year-old man near Columbus Avenue and Liberty Street. Once more, one of the males punched the victim, then ran off with his comrades.
A half hour later, at 6 pm. a group fell upon a 68-year-old woman at Loop Road and Portsea Street, attacking her from behind. One of the young men struck her, then ran off with the group. She fell and hit her head on the pavement. She declined medical attention.
The last reported attack occurred around 6:45, when a group of males approached a 31-year-old male at Columbus and Church Street South. Again, one person punched the man in the face, gave him a kick, then, laughing, ran off with the group.
An “Intimate” Crime
Hsieh lives in West Hartford and works at Yale’s medical school, where he studies the genetics of autism. He said he has been a victim of theft and burglary in the past, but never a crime “on this intimate a level.”
“I’ve never experienced face-to-face violence, where you see the person you are going to violate or who violates you up close,” he said.
According to similar reports in other cities, the “Knockout” game is said to spread through social media, with knocker-outers posting video of their successful hits online.
Hsieh said he didn’t see anyone filming his encounter. “There was no flash and no LED light I could see.” Otherwise, the incident “exactly matched” reports of knockouts from CBS and other news outlets, he said.
On Tuesday evening, Hsieh was heading for his bus stop at 1 Church St. across from Gateway Community College. He started walking from the corner of Cedar and College, then cut through a doctors’ complex toward the Green to save time.
“It wasn’t very bright out,” he said. “Either a streetlight was out or it was too early for them to have come on.”
Three young men in hoodies were walking toward him on the street.
“I concluded that they weren’t old because they had that young kid swag when they walked,” Hsieh said. “And because they were about my height—five-nine or five-ten.”
The boys were backlit by the traffic, and no light caught their faces, so Hsieh said he couldn’t identify them.
Suddenly, when the group was about three feet away, one of the young men broke from the other two. “So I was preparing myself for a tussle or a grab-and-snatch situation,” said Hsieh.
Instead, he got socked between the eyes.
“The guy ran two steps and right-hooked me on the nose,” said Hsieh. “I stumbled back a little and fell on my butt.”
He popped back up, ready to “brace for further impact,” he said, but the gang of three was already running down Church on the train station side, and Hsieh had to catch his bus.
“Then I realized I had a hot liquid dripping down my face,” he said. His nose was badly bloodied.
Hsieh ran to his stop, making the bus; he held his hands to his face. Some passengers found some napkins for him, which staunched the bleeding after 20 minutes.
When he got home he iced his face and went to sleep. In the morning, Hsieh called the New Haven police, Yale police, and posted to Facebook about what happened to him.
One friend commented that she saw something similar to his description that same night after dinner. “She got spooked, so she ran,” Hsieh said.
On his way to work, talking to his fellow commuters about the crime, Hsieh learned about the “Knockout” phenomenon.
“I was telling my bus mates they should watch out because many of them walk the same path I do, and one of them said they saw a news piece about this game kids are playing, that spreads through social media,” he said. Hsieh Googled the game, found a CBS story, and recognized the experience as his own.
“For The Fun Of It”
Hsieh went to the doctor on Wednesday. He was told he probably has a broken nose, but the doctors couldn’t say for sure because his nose is so swollen.
Two days after the hit, the swelling still hadn’t subsided enough for Hsieh to know how badly his nose is damaged. “If they determine there’s a big enough bone displacement, they’ll have to set it,” he said.
Though he’s not in discomfort throughout the day, he says he dreads having to blow his nose. “I hope it heals before cold season,” he said.
Hsieh said he was initially worried that media reports might “further exacerbate the spread” of the attacks, but he decided that it was better to warn people so they can take preventative measures.
“This attack matched all the symptoms exactly,” he said, since the knockout crew didn’t attempt to rob him or beat him up further. As with characters out of “A Clockwork Orange” or “Fight Club,” their motivations seem more opaque. And after one hit, they took off, apparently entertained.
Hsieh said he thinks the group did it “for the fun of it, the thrill.”
It wasn’t fun for Hsieh.
Anyone with information about the attacks should call (203) 946-6304.