© NY Post
Maria Altagracia Vasquez, 94, was in a clothing store called Regines on 116th Street on Sept. 7 when a young male thief followed her into the store and took $600 in cash from her.
They're robbed as they walk their dogs, go on moonlit strolls or sit waiting for buses. They're robbed as they lean on their canes or sit in their wheelchairs. In some cases, they're shoved to the ground and even kicked while they're down.

More than once a day on average this year, someone over the age of 65 was mugged somewhere in New York City. And the numbers are up, particularly in the Bronx and Manhattan.

City seniors know they are vulnerable — and given the choice between safety and freedom, they're choosing the former, limiting what they do and where they go in order to keep safe.

"It's not right that they are targeting senior citizens," Jorge Baiz, 75, said as he sat in his motorized wheelchair outside the Soundview Senior Center in the Bronx. "It's scary. That's why when the sun goes down, I go home. I am not outside at night."

Strong-arm robberies of senior citizens are up 7.8 percent citywide, stats show. There were 316 this year through Sept. 18, compared with the 293 for the same period last year. Muggings of the elderly were markedly higher in Manhattan South, with 43 seniors victimized between Jan. 1 and Sept. 18 — nearly a 140 percent increase over the same period last year.


Horrific headlines — seemingly one after another from just this past month — highlight the cruelty of these crimes against vulnerable elders.

A 93-year-old woman in East Harlem broke New Yorkers' hearts when a craven mugger plucked her pension cash right out of her bra as she sat in her wheelchair. "I just screamed, 'Run! Run! He stole my money!' " victim Maria Vasquez remembered of the Sept. 7 mugging.

On Sept. 11, the purse-snatcher who attacked wheelchair-bound, 85-year-old Bernice Starnes in the Tremont section of the Bronx taunted, "Why don't you run after me?" Just Tuesday, a 72-year-old woman in Midwood, Brooklyn, was knocked to the ground from behind. Her purse was snatched, and her face was scraped by the pavement.

"We take it very seriously," Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told The Post on Wednesday. "That's why we track elderly crime throughout the city. It's important for people to know we are focusing on this."

The muggers who victimize senior citizens tend to be older themselves, Boyce said. And they tend to be drug addicts — so desperate for their next fix, they'll do the seemingly unthinkable.
"It's tough in a world with OxyContin," he said. "It's, generally speaking, people in their late 20s and 30s, perhaps even older — people who usually have a drug dependence of some kind," he said.

Boyce pointed Wednesday to recent arrests of some muggers who've been in the news lately.
  • The cruel "Why don't you run after me?" purse snatcher who attacked Starnes has been identified by police as Adrianne Terry, 37.
  • The "bra bandit" who allegedly attacked Vasquez has also been collared. Police say it's Broyoan Lopez, 26 — a k a the "worst person in New York."
  • And on Wednesday, cops collared Daniel Deynes, 26, charging him with mugging two elderly women in the Belmont section of the Bronx in separate incidents in August. "Thank God! I'm very happy," Frances Tomanelli, 90, told The Post. Deynes allegedly walked into her unlocked apartment and demanded, "Give me the money!" "I understand times are hard," she said. "But the government is kind and they can help you. Why rob old people?"
A senior's best protection is self-awareness, advised Amy Chalfy, chief program officer for the city's Jewish Association Serving for the Aging. "Look around you. Use the buddy system," she advised.

Seniors can protect themselves by varying their schedules and reducing the times they travel alone, particularly when they are shopping or going to banks, Boyce said.

Some seniors said they had another, more proactive strategy. "I would throw him a swift kick with my knee," feisty Adriana Mendez, 65, said outside the Soundview Senior Center. "I'm not young, but I can still defend myself."
© New York Post
Additional reporting by Lorena Mongelli, Tina Moore and Laura Italiano