When Rob Mealey has his kids in the car, he said he drives like an old lady — slower, safer, confined to the right-hand lane, careful not to cut anyone off.

If he’s in a hurry or is stressed behind the wheel, he tries not to show it. Look in the rearview mirror too often, or speed up too fast and one of his kids might ask a painful question: “Are we being chased?”

They ask, he said, because about two years ago, they were.

May 4, 2022, was supposed to be pretty good. It was a Wednesday and the kids had a half-day at school. Mealey took his son and daughter, ages 6 and 9 at the time, to play mini golf with one of his son’s friends.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

After dropping the friend off at his home in Hamilton, the family was heading back west around 3:40 p.m. to their home in Medfield, cutting across the northern half of the city. Driving in his 2015 Acura RDX down Perring Parkway where it turns into Hillen Road, the trio was listening to an episode of a kids podcast, “Story Pirates.”

A right turn onto Cold Spring Lane brought them to a red light, with Mealey’s car one of the last in a column of traffic. Suddenly, a white sedan, maybe it was a Nissan, came up and parked diagonally in front of Mealey’s car. A person wearing a mask got out of the passenger side, Mealey said. They appeared to be holding something. Maybe it was a gun, maybe it wasn’t. He isn’t sure.

What he did next he is sure of, and Google location data from his phone supports it: Opting not to surrender to would-be carjackers, Mealey hopped the median and sped the other way. “I didn’t want to stop, because I couldn’t trust they would let me get my kids out of the car,” he said. “It felt safer to run away than to give them the car in that instance.”

The white sedan followed.

When Mealey came to another light, not far down the road, the occupants of the sedan tried again to box him in. Mealey drove over the median once more, making another emergency U-turn, before speeding onto a side street and heading the wrong way down a one-way street. The sedan followed. He dialed 911, trying to explain he was being chased while attempting to shake his pursuers. Eventually, he lost them, although he can’t remember exactly where, only that he looked in the rearview mirror and the sedan wasn’t there anymore.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

He pulled into a parking lot, one full of cars, on the Morgan State University campus. His son was shaking. His daughter, who has Down syndrome, was trying her best to reassure everyone, telling them both it was OK.

The whole ordeal lasted less than 10 minutes.

“I’ve gotten pickpocketed, I’ve gotten mugged in other places, but I’ve never experienced a targeted thing like that, an intense or continued effort to do harm or take something,” Mealey said.

Authorities on Tuesday held a news conference to announce indictments for a crew of young adults and teens in connection with nearly three dozen armed carjackings, eight attempted carjackings and a murder over a year period. Mealey read an article about those carjackings and said the tactics that group is alleged to have used seemed identical to what he experienced. He wonders if that was the same people who targeted him.

Paul Halliday, chief of the Maryland Attorney General's Organized Crime Unit, center, talks about an investigation that led to six people being indicted in connection with dozens of carjackings and a murder. Also pictured, from left: Attorney General Anthony Brown, Assistant Attorney General Katie Dorian, ATF Assistant Special Agent Joseph Persails and Mayor Brandon Scott. (lee Sanderlin/The Baltimore Banner)

They’re alleged to have stolen a white Nissan Altima days before someone tried to carjack Mealey and his kids. The crew used that Altima in other robberies, according to court records. It was the car used in an attempted carjacking in November that ended with a rideshare passenger being fatally shot as the driver, as Mealey did months earlier, tried to get away.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Read more: Maryland Attorney General, Baltimore Police say local gang behind dozens of carjackings

After parking his car at Morgan State, he called his ex-wife to come get the kids, and then he called his brother to come meet him. The Baltimore Police Department’s Northeast Precinct is essentially on Morgan State’s campus, so he and his brother, they said in interviews, walked up to the station house desk where an emotional Mealey tried to explain what had just happened. The officers there had hardly any interest in listening to his story, let alone filing a report or investigation, he said.

“I don’t remember exactly, specifically what the two cops who were there said, but I remember them looking at me kind of confused and kind of annoyed,” Mealey said, anger rippling through his voice. “They were like ‘Nothing happened right? Everything’s fine, no one’s hurt?’ It was like COMPSTAT or something. They didn’t want to hear it, and they didn’t want to put something on paper about it.”

He’s struggled to place what happened to him and his kids into context. Ultimately, the police were right when the officers pointed out that Mealey wasn’t carjacked and that no one got hurt. But the anxieties from something like that linger.

Both of his kids have gotten extensive therapy, and Mealey can’t help sometimes but feel unsafe in the city he’s called home for more than a decade. His son has anxiety attacks about it, and Mealey worries he’s put his anxiety on an elementary school kid’s shoulder.

Rob Mealey was driving his two young kids, one with a disability, home in 2022 when a group of people tried to carjack him. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

On one hand, the indictment validates his last two years that what happened to Mealey was real and was awful. If there’s comfort in that, he said, it’s mostly lost knowing that six people, five of whom aren’t old enough to buy beer, could spend decades behind bars.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Everyone loses,” he said. “It doesn’t make me feel any better that these kids are going to prison. Not even one iota.”

The point of sharing this story, Mealey said, isn’t to contribute to hysteria about the dangers of Baltimore. He’s a data scientist — he knows violent crime is down. And he loves this city, he loves his neighborhood where he knows someone on every block and doesn’t worry about his kids walking to school.

Yet there’s a feeling he can’t quite shake. It’s not hopelessness, but it’s not far off. What does it say about a city when the police won’t help, the criminal legal system seems to do more harm than good, and kids are out robbing and shooting people?

“It just feels like we’re on our own,” Mealey said. “Even in neighborhoods that aren’t historically ignored and marginalized — the whole city is basically on its own when it comes to things like this.”