Student's family kidnapped

Ph.D. in rhetoric student Eric Hanbury teaches a section of Interpretation and Argument on conceptions of democracy. The class focuses not just on government practices but also on the way people perceive cultural norms — or, how they notice when those norms are interrupted.

“We get into a routine, and the routine becomes familiar,” Hanbury said. “We find faith in the familiar.”

Monday night, Hanbury’s routine was disrupted when his wife, Maria, and their two children, aged three months and four years, were kidnapped and forced to withdraw money from an ATM.

Maria Hanbury was leaving the toy-lending library on Centre Avenue near S. Aiken Avenue in Shadyside around 6 p.m. when a man approached her from behind as she was buckling the couple’s older child into his carseat. The man’s face was concealed by a ski mask with two holes cut out for his eyes, and he was holding what appeared to be a gun. He got in the passenger seat and directed Maria toward Bloomfield, eventually commanding her to stop on the side of the road next to an ATM, forcing her to withdraw money. When she returned, the man said it wasn’t enough and forced her to withdraw more until she had given him about $500 in all. Eventually, the man asked Maria to pull over one more time, at which point he jumped out of the car.

Hanbury, who was at the couple’s Morningside home when his family returned at about 8:15 p.m., described his initial reaction as one of disbelief.

“Obviously it didn’t register,” he said. “As soon as I got the gist of what was going on, we called the police.”
Furthermore, the police took the couple’s car to look for evidence, he said, leaving the couple stranded at home during the bulk of last week’s snowstorms. Since the police returned the car late last week, Hanbury said his wife had not yet gotten inside.

While Hanbury held office hours and taught classes on Thursday and Friday, he didn’t attend his own classes for the remainder of last week after the incident occurred.

“School isn’t the priority at this time,” he said.

However, the family has received an outpouring of support from friends, neighbors, and colleagues, many of whom supplied food and ran errands while their car was being held by police. They have also been contacted by several psychologists seeking to mitigate the effects of the trauma, especially on the couple’s four-year-old.

“Faculty and staff have created a fund to help Eric and his family with some of the financial setback caused by this,” stated David Kaufer, professor and head of the English Department, via e-mail. “I [also] know his fellow graduates have supplied groceries and other support for the family.”

Hanbury was not sure how the case would proceed.

“It’s in the police’s hands,” he said.

For now, Hanbury has been focused on making his students and colleagues more aware of the incident in hopes that they will take precautions to avoid a similar situation in the future.

“The probability that this could happen to you, your family, or someone you know is rather low,” he wrote in an e-mail to colleagues in the English Department. “I only write this in hopes that the probability can be lowered still further by being a little more watchful — of yourselves and others. Please, pay attention to your surroundings.”

His students were shocked when Hanbury recounted the incident in front of the class, but Hanbury did his best to supply them with a learning experience, not a horror story.

“If we were a little more aware that things aren’t standard, people would pay more attention,” he said.

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police was unavailable for comment.