This two-block stretch of Ryland is one of my favorite public spaces anywhere. I often bring my art history students here to show them a prime example of axial design. The street is well-defined on both sides with interesting and diverse building types that create strong and textured urban walls. As I was passing behind the Ukrop's and enjoying the Gothic revival details of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, I noticed a fight ensuing outside the corner laundry. At closer range, a hefty young man in an oversized T-shirt was wrestling with a woman. If he wasn't beating her, he was clearly manhandling her. He kept her in shifting chokeholds as she wrestled to free herself.
A former female student of mine drove up to the stoplight at Ryland and West Grace and began screaming for the man to leave the woman alone.
But I noticed that the woman, while terrified, didn't break away and run during the brief times she escaped his fierce grip. Was this a domestic spat? Or just two drunks or druggies?
Within minutes, the man pulled the woman, kicking and fighting, across Ryland and out of sight behind an oversized trash bin. At least six people, including me, were now monitoring the situation from across Ryland. We walked southward to keep an eye on things. Someone called 911.
The assailant grew increasingly frustrated at our surveillance. He appeared agitated as we continued to holler "Stop!" and "Leave her alone!" Then, perhaps figuring they could have it out in a less-public ring, he dragged the woman behind the apartment building at 1101 W. Grace St.
Still in his clutches, she began squirming frantically. He dragged her by the legs, pulling her pants down: Bright red bikini briefs glistened in the late afternoon sun.
From our side of the street, someone yelled one last time, "Leave her alone, bitch!"
The assailant turned, eyes raging, and shouted back, "Stay there, I'll be right back."
The intertwined couple wrestled their way out of sight.
Then, seemingly within seconds, the assailant darted out of the house to the edge of a low wall, lifted a rifle, aimed at those of us across Ryland Street and opened fire.
"BANG BANG BANG BANG!!!"
Ducking, I scampered toward Franklin Street, past the front door of the once-elegant Gresham Court Apartments, where a teenage male came running out. All the color was drained from his fair-skinned face.
"What's going on?" he asked, trembling. Apparently, he'd been sitting watching television when one of the bullets shot through his apartment window.
A VCU patrol car pulled in behind the house. Officers were in hot pursuit. Then, half a dozen other cars wheeled in.
Within minutes, the police had apprehended the assailant on the front porch of the house.
The owner of Gresham Court arrived on the scene and expressed concern about his tenant, the VCU student whose apartment had been hit. "It's too bad," he said, shaking his head slowly. "He just moved in yesterday."
After a search, the investigators found the rifle, an AK-47. The apprehended man is behind bars and awaiting arraignment. SEdwin Slipek Jr., Style Weekly's architectural critic for 13 years, teaches art history and architectural history at VCU and the Maggie L. Walker Governor's School.
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