“I don’t know what to do now. I doubt they’re doing anything illegal, just super-freaky.”

MALL
Photo by PoPville flickr user Jarrett Hendrix

“Dear PoPville,

I like to jog on the Mall in the morning and have done so for years. Lately, a pair of women there have fixated on me as a “criminal” who is following them. This started 6-8 weeks ago. They dress all in black, including sunglasses, hats, and black winter earcovers no matter the weather, and carry black garbage bags. I have never spoken to them, have no idea who they are. I wandered too close to them, I guess, and they both pointed at me and scream-chanted in unison “Criminal! See something, say something, criminal! Never come near us again!” over and over and over. I was weirded out and a little scared (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” scarred me as a kid) but I just ran away and chalked it up to life in the Big City.

Then, I started seeing them near-daily. Each time they point and scream and make a scene, sometimes from a good distance, and I always have to scramble to get out of their sight. I tried altering my routes and time I set off, and avoiding them when I see them, but they seem to live on the Mall and wander the area randomly, and I’ve found myself turning a corner and coming face-to-face with them. I thought they were doing that with everyone until I bumped into them in the middle of a big group of runners recently. They were fine with the crowd until they saw me, then they started point/chanting again, calling everyone’s attention to themselves and me. I realized this reaction was to me specifically. I’m guessing they have some kind of shared paranoia and after seeing me so regularly in various places they assume that I’m following them.

I don’t know what to do now. I doubt they’re doing anything illegal, just super-freaky. They clearly fear me and I want to be compassionate, but I’m getting a little anxious and paranoid myself worrying what happens if I accidentally come too close, or if they decide to proactively do something about the “criminal” following them. Speaking to them is impossible and trying would probably make things worse. The Mall is quite large and really the only running route near my home that I feel is safe and open, and I hate to feel driven away. Is that my only option? Should I try to talk to them, and if so, what should I say to convince them I’m just a normal person trying to get through a run? Thanks in advance for any advice.”

103 Comment

  • Sorry they seemed to have picked you out, but they sound like your run-of-the-mill nutter butters. Nutters gonna nut?

  • that is crazy and would freak me out too. could you ask a police officer to approach them with you one day to try and help sort it all out? Or maybe a friend ask them what the deal is?

  • That is super weird. I would maybe try and ask the opinion of a law enforcement official – any of those reading this? My inclination would be to report it, but that would place you under suspicion (which would eventually be cleared, it seems), but there’s also the possibility of it spiraling out of control.

  • … can anyone else see them?

    • Lol. I just choked on my lunch.

    • Excellent commenting. You can go home for the day.

    • This is pretty much the exact thought I had! Stifling an explosion of laughter hurts!

    • ChenChen

      hahahahaha

    • Just shot water out of my nose, my thoughts exactly.

    • This is the OP. I laughed at this too, I admit. Yes, I promise they are real and other people have seen them! PoP asked if I had a picture or video of them, I decided against trying to take one because it would agitate them — to them, the weird lady following them will have suddenly appeared to start filming them, too.

      • That is exactly the way to handle it. A freaky, distant co-worker in Boston once accused me, appropos of nothing, of being “a member of the KKK.” (I actually had done a lot of civil rights work, on behalf of minorities in the Deep South, by then.) To toy with her, I looked her in the eye and asked, “How do you know?” I continued, gesturing down: “My robe is right here, in my lower desk drawer. You won’t tell anyone, will you?” She never bothered me again. Never even came close.
        .
        Same thing with panhandlers. Just breeze past them, lost in conversation with yourself, quoting lines from Goethe or Racine. They’ll assume you’re one of them, and be happy to leave you alone.

    • hahahahaha—ha

  • Report them to law enforcement as suspicious characters. Problem solved.

  • Is this real life?

  • This is harassment. If it continues report it to the police and seek out a protective order if necessary.
    .
    Behavior like this may seem innocuous but can escalate.

  • There was a woman like that at my local library too —- if it’s the same person, she is mentally ill and you should just ignore it to the extent you can. She wore sunglasses indoors and put a bag over the keyboard before she typed, and was super passive-aggressive to anyone who got near her. I also saw her ranting in the street. It’s hard to listen to, but certainly they are not rational. Maybe call the DC Mental health Hotline? they probably already know about her.

  • I would continue running on the mall, keep your eyes open and take a detour if you see them (as you say the Mall is pretty huge so it seems odd that you keep running into the same people.) Next time you see a Park Police officer down there ask them for advice – if these women are there as often as you say they are and act as strangely as you say they do, I suspect they are known to Park Police. If not, you should tell them.

  • Hm, I wonder if this is the same pair of women I once saw by a House office building. They sound the same except the pair I saw were sitting on a wall and holding big black umbrellas in front of their faces. I walked by with a group of kids once, and they yelled at us to get away and leave them alone. Haven’t seen them since, though.

    • That sounds a lot like 2 women who used their black umbrellas to shield themselves from my dog as we were waiting to cross 3rd St by the reflecting pool. They were muttering something about getting my dog away from them despite being 10 feet away.

    • I have seen them in the House office buildings. The first few times I saw one of them (not sure if it was the same woman each time), she smelled absolutely horrible, like literally gag inducing even after she was long gone. It was one of the worst smells I’ve ever smelled on a person, and I used to walk by several homeless people on my walk to high school in the Miami heat. I’ve seen them walking around in the House buildings but other than their peculiar outfits, they didn’t seem to be causing much trouble.

  • I would call Homeless Outreach through the Department of Behavior Health. The ladies are already probably on their radar but the fact that you feel/are singled out could be helpful to their assessment of the ladies, the safety of the ladies and the safety of you and others in the future.

    http://dbh.dc.gov/service/homeless-services-dmh

    Office: (202) 673-9124

    Or call the 24 hour Access Helpline
    1-888-793-4357

  • Popville has officially out-weirded itself.

    I don’t think I could resist engaging them. The morw times you run away when they call you a criminal, the more you validate their claim from their bizarre perspective.

    I’d just be like, “I run this route almost everyday. I have been since before you showed up. Please stop harassing me or have to involve law enforcement.” Tun it right back on them.

  • Allison

    I’d start with the US Park Police District 1 (which includes the National Mall). If you explain the encounters, they may tell you whether or not they are already familiar with these people and if they are giving others a hard time too. If they are not already familiar with them, then you can get some advice on how to proceed. You can call them at (202) 426-6710, or they have an office kind of near the Jefferson Memorial at 900 Ohio Drive SW Washington, DC 20024.

  • I see them most mornings when I run on the mall, winding up the hill near the Capitol building heading west… they have never said anything to me and I run pretty close to them… they are definitely weird… this morning I got close enough to see that the black bags say Russell Senate building I believe.

    • This is the OP – can you please give a cross street or the like on where you see them? I’ve seen them most often on the southern half of the Mall, heading east. Dundra below says they have a route – if I can figure out what that is then I’d like to avoid it. Thanks!

  • What about getting a running buddy, but who hangs back a bit to appear as he/she is not with you. If you run into them again and they ‘freak out’, could your ‘buddy’ approach them, and ask them what’s up?

    This is bizarre and I would want to get to the bottom of this too! But so many questions — by ‘live on the Mall’ do you mean they run there all the time or do you think they are homeless? Since so many homeless suffer from mental illness, could it be that? I wonder what the garbage bag is for?

  • Don’t be too scared! Its the “sisters”. They hang out in the Longworth House Building Cafeteria everyday, and smell horribly. Practically every staffer on the Hill knows who they are – Or at least has experienced the terrible smell they emit. They can be rude and offensive, but I think they are rather harmless.

    • Funny, I’ve been on the hill a few years and haven’t caught wind of them.

      • Oh, I have. They really do stink up the cafeteria unlike anything I’ve witnessed before; you know they are there before you see them

    • I’ve seen them in the Rayburn Cafeteria fairly regularly. They appear to be twins, which would be fascinating in itself if the issue of mental illness weren’t so serious.

    • Came here to say exactly this! Yeah they are weird and keep an eye on everyone in the cafeteria. My creep signal peaks when they’re around…

    • This. I see them in the Longworth Cafeteria at all times. They seem nice enough, but they are triggered easily. I saw them yelling at a Capitol Police Officer once and saying things like “I never would have expected this type of behavior from a man in uniform.” He was taking it in stride, though.

      They practically live down there, drinking cokes and reading the paper. It’s fascinating to hear what they do in their spare time, though I am sorry to hear they have singled you out.

    • +1 I came here as well to say I know it’s them. They come into the Longworth cafeteria all the time. Once I was checking the news on my phone, one of them came up to me and said “It is illegal to take pictures on the House floor and I am getting security”. But we were in the freaking cafeteria!I wasn’t even taking pictures. They then held newspapers up hiding their faces the entire time I sat and ate lunch. Freaked me out.

    • I’ve never worked on the Hill and haven’t been to the Longworth or Rayburn cafeterias, but is it normal for them to just let anyone in? This seems….odd, especially if they do cause disturbances sometimes.

      • They are public buildings, anyone is welcome. These women are weird but not threatening (in my experience). People can get blacklisted from the capitol complex, but I think you have to really raise some red flags for that to happen.

      • totally open to the public! constituents often use them.

      • +100 Very odd that they are allowed to hang out there

      • We do still have the trappings of a democracy. Odd that you guys think this is weird for government buildings to be open….

        • Hmmm, government buildings should be open to the public. I don’t disagree. But when people come in who are mentally unstable and lash out unexpectedly, I would think security should step in so others are not hurt. What if they decided to clothesline someone in the cafeteria? Just a thought.

    • Woah, they sound like the women from Grey Gardens reincarnated.

  • Are these people two short Asian women? If so, I see them around the mall most mornings (though they’ve never shouted anything at me).

    As the first commenter said, perhaps asking the police in the area what to do is a start. There are tons around the Capitol who don’t seem to do much at that hour of the day and may be happy to oblige.

  • There have been other discussions of these two on Popville, but I can’t find the posts. I seem to remember them trying to clothesline a jogger with their arms a few months ago?

  • 1) If this is the biggest thing you’ve got to worry about, you’re not doing so bad.
    2) Take a second and realize how actually ridiculous this situation is and try to relax.
    3) Engaging them (with or without police presence) would be a huge mistake. Why make a bigger situation than is necessary?
    4) They probably keep doing it when they see you since it clearly startles you and you get all freaked out by it. Try ignoring them. If you’re just someone out for a run who couldn’t be bothered, they’ll probably leave you alone.
    5) They’re clearly unstable, and evidently homeless, while you have the luxury of living near the Mall, and exercising in your spare time….find something else to fixate on.

    • I think you might be belittling this jogger’s fear. I think it is completely legitimate to be worried that one day they could lash out at her since they have appeared to choose her as their “criminal.” Yes, they are clearly unstable, but that is also exactly why she has some valid fears.

      • +1

        I think the OP’s concerns are understandable, and the derision from Anonymous (1:23) unwarranted. OP: it sounds like many people are familiar with this woman. Park Police probably knows them as well, so the advise to talk with them is sound.

      • Anonymous is completely belittling OP’s fear. And I can guarantee that #4 is not at all how mental illness works. That might be how a 2-year-old throwing a tantrum works, but mental illness is serious and can become harmful to either the jogger (if they suddenly snap) or the women suffering from it (what if they pick the wrong person to pick on one of these days?).
        .
        We can all feel different feelings and it’s okay, anonymous.

      • +500. Just because you have the luxury of being able to ignore people and never give unusual situations a second thought…. this is harassment. When faced with it on a regular basis it can be scary, especially when they are yelling you’re a criminal. Don’t belittle people’s fears.

    • +1; OP seems like someone who has led a rather sheltered life

      • Come on. People who live unsheltered lives are not regularly harassed by twins in all black inter wear as criminals. We’re not talking once. It’s every time she runs they recognize and harass her.

        The OP’s note was also not trembling in fear. It seemed pretty rational and objective. She’s just looking for advice on a creepy situation.

    • Yes. There are probably bigger issues out there but that does not in turn diminish the OPs post. He is on here asking for advice about a situation. If you don’t like, it don’t read it.
      I see plenty of things on here thinking “hm thats odd” or “could’ve lived without knowing that,” but just because I think that doesn’t mean it’s not important to someone else.

      …side note. The “can anyone else see them” comment was great.

  • Get a small clip-on speaker for your phone, play Smooth Criminal on a loop, get a black ear band, and keep running on the Mall.
    Seriously though, if they run with a group I’m worried about the group believing them and pouncing on you like good samaritans, detaining you until the cops get there. I agree you should talk to a park ranger next time you see one.

    • “the group believing them and pouncing on you like good samaritans, detaining you until the cops get there.”
      .
      Seriously? Given the description of the scene above, you think anyone would actually report the *runner* to the cops?

  • I understand many commenters’ instincts that you go to the police – they’re right that this could escalate for you, and it’s more than reasonable for you to not want to just ignore it and hope it’s never a problem. So no judgement if you do go to the police – your personal safety is important, and they are there to protect you and everyone else.

    However, I personally would hesitate befor bringing the police into a situation where mental health could be a factor. Many police officers might know how to appropriately deal with that situation, but if they don’t, the women could end up in a bad situation quickly.

    I’d recommend calling the mental health hotline, as that previous commenter suggested. (http://dbh.dc.gov/service/access-helpline) And even if you want to involve the police, it’s possible the mental health hotline could work with you and the police to make sure that a mental health professional’s perspective is taken into account in the process.

    Best of luck, and I hope that this is resolved in the most peaceful way for everyone involved.

    • This is the OP – I have leaned against the police for reasons you mention. As I said above, I don’t think what they’re doing is illegal. I’m thinking of a line from Veep: “Nothing says regular American like standing on a street corner shouting at strangers.” They also have never said “I’ll kill you” or similar that I think would merit immediate police involvement, though I’m not a lawyer or LEO. However, the fierce hostility they show when shouting/pointing, plus my realization that it’s specific to me and not just any goober passing by, gives me a small but lingering fear that one day the situation will escalate in a way I can’t control or get away from. That’s why I’m seeking advice on de-escalating, avoiding, or coming to some kind of understanding with them if I can.

      • At the very least, the are mentally unstable. Unstable. You don’t know what they might do. Avoiding sounds like a good idea, but the reality is this is harassment and if they’re doing it to you, they are doing it to others. They clearly need help, so the mental health hotlines recommended are good ideas, but I would also ask a police officer to approach them with you so that you can report it and make sure that it is documented.

  • Jog a different route?

  • Gives me flashbacks to Claire Underwood running through the cemetery.

  • I run on the Mall almost every weekday at varying hours, and I have never seen the people you are describing. I’m not saying they aren’t real, but I do find it odd that I’ve never once seen them. DC isn’t a huge city and there are several “characters” around town that lots of people know just in passing. And this would especially be true in a somewhat limited geographic region like the National Mall. Very mysterious.

    • See above comments regarding these same women being spotted near-daily in the Rayburn and Longworth cafeteria….it is super odd and seems too weird to be true, but apparently these are known characters who for whatever reason have chosen to fixate on this poor jogger!

  • Next (and every) time it happens, give them a big smile and two thumbs up, and keep on going. If nothing else, observers will assume they’re friends of yours having some (weird) fun at your expense.

  • I know these ladies (i think they are actually twins) – they often hung out in the cafe at the Smithsonian Castle when I worked there. They are generally harmless, smell terrible, and can occasionally be set off on rants. I know that the SI guards would occasionally have to kick them out, and they may be worth talking to as well for more info on how to handle them. Good luck!

  • Yeah, I see them every morning, between 630AM-8AM this same route (unless it is raining or snowing). Men and dogs have always set them off.
    You keep running into them on their morning route from the shelter bathroom behind the WWII memorial, a pit stop at the American History Museum bench for a whisper behind umbrellas, then off to south Capital via the Mall route. This is their thang, they have been doing it for years, the same rotation. If you take the outer run/walk ways along the North and South of the Mall, you will not run into them because they go right down the of it.

    • This is the OP – thanks Dundra for your intel! I’ve stayed away from the south inner loop side of the Mall (Hirshorn, Sculpture Garden, American Indian, USDA South Building) because they definitely frequent there, but I once happened upon them at their American History bench you mentioned. It was not good. If they have a regular route, I’d rather figure that out and avoid them. Thanks again!

    • This is why PoPville can be great sometimes.

      But honestly, you aren’t going to fix what is up with them. So either avoid them or just run by and ignore them.
      I once almost got karate kicked by some character by Farragut North. Scared the crap out me, but then I just laughed and laughed.

  • They are nuts, don’t engage them, that’s just tormenting the mentally ill. Shame on you guys for suggesting he mess with them. Take a slightly different route! Dundra seems to have a handle on their movements.

  • Just avoid them.

  • I am of the opinion that you should be able to run/walk anywhere you want in public and not get screamed at. Pick a different route? Why should we be so accommodating to such behavior? I don’t get it. I know there are worse problems out there, blah blah but come on.

    • Why should we be so accommodating to such behavior?
      .
      Umm, because it appears to stem from mental illness and not maliciousness.

    • “Why should we be so accommodating to such behavior?” – Because it’s by far the easiest solution and probably more productive than the more difficult ones. I don’t think every problem in life should be solved on principle alone.

    • While I agree with you in principle, in daily life we have to interact to some extent with the mentally ill, most of whom are harmless (and often subjected to terrible treatment and exploitation when they aren’t being actively ignored) but some of whom will mutter or scream at you as a result of their illness. I don’t see an “easier” solution to this jogger’s problem than the practical suggestion of “alter your route,” and indeed, the OP has been given some really good info on these sisters’ routine so that he or she can pretty regularly avoid being screamed at. It is unfortunate that the jogger has to be, to a certain extent, inconvenienced by someone else’s problem, but I don’t see a more pragmatic solution. It seems the women are well-known to workers, and likely police and security personnel in the area, but are not considered actively harmful, and you can’t just chuck the mentally ill in a wagon and lock them up in institutions for being smelly or weird or annoying. They’re still people, and the OP has written with both compassion for their obvious illness and distress, but with justifiable fear and frustration for his or her own safety and well-being.

  • Several friends and I see them twice a week on our morning runs on the Mall. They are crazy and should be given a wide berth because you never know what they’re going to do. One time about three months ago I was running on the same side of the street as them and as I got near, one flung out her arm to try and clothesline me. Fortunately I’ve never trusted them and was far away enough that the sudden outstretched arm didn’t hit me. We first started noticing them about two years ago when it was super-icy out and one of my running buddies made the mistake of asking if they needed help and got an outpouring of obscenities.

    (For what it’s worth, because of their all-in-black outfits, we’ve referred to them as the “ninjas” since then.)

    • Clothesline you? Good lord. I hope that this isn’t the same pair. All the more reason to be sure I give them space, I guess. Thanks for the heads up (heads down?)

  • I’m intrigued now. I want to know more about these ladies– where they’re from, how they spend their days, what’s going through their heads exactly.

  • Maybe I should start jogging on the mall, this is intriguing….

  • I run on the Mall in the early morning and see them too. One time, I made the unfortunate mistake to use the bathroom opposite the Sylvan Theater and didn’t realize they were in the stalls. We came out of the bathroom together and they started yelling at me. They’ve pointed at me and yelled at me a few times since that encounter but I just ignore them.

    • This is the OP. Thank you – I’ll avoid that area as well. Your story sounds very unnerving, I’m glad it didn’t put you off running on the Mall. I’ll take your approach and continue trying to avoid/ignore them. Good luck out there!

  • I am having a similar (and very scary) experience with a mentally ill homeless man. Generally, he just yells at the air and doesn’t pay much attention to passerby. But something about me in particular seems to set him off.
    .
    I’m a woman, and having a tall, relatively fit man screaming profanity directly at you with true absolute rage, fullest volume possible, so intense that there are literally fountains of spittle flying in the air. Let’s just say its terrifying, and not a level of intensity most of us encounter in our lives.

  • They are clearly unstable, and the reality is you don’t know what they will do. Another commentor mentioned that they attempted to strike him. They may be “generally harmless” but you cannot predict that they will not escalate their behavior. I would both call the mental health hotlines that others have recommended, AND file a police report so that it is documented. If they are doing this to you, they are doing it to others and you don’t know how far they have escalated with them either.

  • Please be careful. While these ladies were once only a nuisance to our olfactory senses, they have exhibited increasingly aggressive behavior over the last several weeks. They were recently forcibly removed from a House office building for harassing and threatening people in the cafeteria and then in House offices. I think that they have come back to the House campus, and USCP certainly is aware of them. Park Police might need a heads up also. That said, keep running…I promise you are faster than they are!

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