If We Can Save Just One, It’ll Be Worth It

It was early one September morning, maybe 6:00 am, and I was walking my usual route to work. From door-to-door, it was less than a mile and a half and it was a great way to wake up and watch the sun rise. At 22 years old I was working as a prep-cook while I finished college and morning shifts were tough.

My then-boyfriend had gotten into guns after turning 21, so we had both purchased firearms and practiced before taking our tests for concealed carry permits. I rarely went anywhere without my gun after that, having taken the time to get my permit I wasn’t going to let it go to waste. He was having a great time with our new hobby and encouraged me, but the best thing I could afford at the time was a cheap Kel-tec, with a handy built-in belt clip, that had a tendency to jam after the first round had been fired. Neither of us were experienced enough to figure it out on our own and I quickly excelled at clearing stovepipe malfunctions, even though I didn’t know what they were at the time.

I was carrying that morning as I walked to work, slightly zoned out as I walked the final 100 yards up the sidewalk along the river. At the early hour, almost nobody was outside. It wasn’t the movement I noticed ahead of me, it was the stark lack of movement that made me look up. A portly Hispanic man, middle-aged, had stopped in the middle of the sidewalk ahead of me about 30 feet and was facing me. I hadn’t really seen where he came from, but there he was. I hadn’t realized I stopped as well until I was acutely aware that my feet felt like they weighed a million pounds. I didn’t know what he wanted, but the look on his face said that it wasn’t anything good. The initial exchange is fuzzy, but the gist was that he wanted me to come closer. I took an instinctive step backwards, wondering if I could outrun him, but scared to turn my back on him.

He pulled a knife from somewhere and told me I would be coming with him. No response from me; I felt frozen, my mind racing for an explanation – is this some kind of sick joke? He took a single small step forward. The knife, which looked big before, seemingly doubled in size and I suddenly remembered that I had my gun clipped to the waistband of my pants. After carrying it with me every day for the better part of two years, I was so used to the gun being part of me and my daily routine that I had almost forgotten it was there.

He took another step forward and I grabbed the gun, aimed it out in front of me, rested my finger on the trigger, and told him I would not be going anywhere with him, although what actually came out of my mouth was likely garbled and definitely included some profanity. I was scared to death, but it wasn’t because of him. I was scared that I would actually need my firearm and I would only be guaranteed the first shot because the second one wasn’t reliable. There’s no way I would have time to clear the malfunction before he got to me. I knew I would have to wait if he charged me until I knew I wouldn’t miss. I cursed myself silently for not spending a little more money on something better or making more time to understand how to fix it.

He stopped advancing and stood up straight long enough for me to notice that he’d peed his pants. I was too jittery to notice that I, too, had peed my pants. He turned and ran back down the sidewalk and down to the riverbank. I stood there for a while until I realized my gun was still out, then I slid it back into my waistband and forced myself to walk up the steps to work. I must have been quite the sight because my boss was immediately concerned. I told him I fell in the river, which I’m sure he didn’t believe, and that I wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go home. One of the other staff members drove me home and I unloaded the gun and put it away before spending the day trying to convince myself the entire episode never happened. Had I overreacted? What if someone saw me with my gun out and reported me?

I couldn’t call the authorities and tell them what happened. As I had crossed the bridge over the river that morning to work, I crossed into another state, one that was a “may” grant state instead of a “shall” grant state. That state had turned down my application for one of their state permits because I didn’t have a need for it in their eyes. Every day I worked, I committed a felony by crossing the state line with my firearm. It was a dirty little secret I was okay with until I had actually needed it and now was unable to tell anyone out of fear for my future. Would they throw me in jail? I told nobody – not my boyfriend, not my parents, not my friends – for more than a decade.

I’d like to say that’s where the story ends, but it’s not.

The real tragedy happened 6-8 weeks after my incident when a young woman my age was abducted, at knife point, from a crowded parking lot just before Thanksgiving. I had done such a good job of trying to forget what had happened to me that I didn’t make the connection until they caught him in December and showed his picture on TV. Then all the stuff I’d been fighting to make go away made my stomach turn. The man that tried, and failed, to kidnap me early one morning on my way to work succeeded in taking another young woman, who he subsequently held in a basement where he repeatedly raped her and cut her before putting a plastic bag over her head, slitting her throat, and throwing her naked body into a snow-covered ditch before the authorities could arrest him for her murder.

I found out during the course of the investigation and trial that the man had been released from prison earlier that year after serving time for stabbing and attempting to kidnap a woman. Rest assured, he is now on death row in a federal prison for what he did to the young lady he kidnapped after me. In an ironic twist of fate, he had also crossed the same state line during his crime, which made it a federal case and made him eligible for the death penalty. Apropos? I’d say so.

After telling my story in an anonymous, online blog response to anti-gun sentiments more than a decade after the incident, I felt intense relief. I told more people about it, felt more relief, and received encouragement. I got involved in taking firearm classes despite my preexisting target shooting interests and got personal instruction from a man who thought I was “a natural”. He encouraged me to take up competitive shooting and to become an instructor. I founded a local chapter of a national women’s shooting organization and am happy to be facilitating the training of more women so they can defend themselves if they should ever need to do so. As the saying goes, “If we can save just one, it’ll be worth it.”   Anonymous