by Alice Woodrome
It was the spring of 1998. I still can't believe I reacted as I did. But that day there was no time to think.
I was downtown in a little family business while a small Indian woman wrote out a receipt. A man with a cloth draped over his shoulder entered the office. He appeared to be around forty, average height with deep acne scars on his face. He seemed cheerful and I smiled when our eyes meet briefly. The man conducted his business quickly and left before I did.
I left the business a moment afterwards and walked toward my truck. When I was within a few feet of my vehicle, I notice someone in my peripheral vision walking across the parking lot toward me. I glanced sideways and saw that it was the man who just left the building before I did. The cloth was draped over his arm then and he didn't change direction as he neared me.
I felt suddenly uncomfortable and stepped quickly to unlock the door. Just as I started to step up into my truck, he was beside me. The man pointed a silver pistol at me and motioned for me to get into the truck.
I didn't have time to be frightened, but I recognized the life-and-death potential of the situation. He intended to take my vehicle -- with me in it.
I didn't consider for a moment doing what he told me. Instead I moved sideways away from the truck door and screamed at the top of my lungs "No! Help! Help! Help! Help!" He backed off, startled, it seemed, at my response. Incredulously, he did not run. He kept the gun pointed at me and seemed to be considering his options, while I continued screaming.
The Indian woman and her husband ran out of the business and I pointed at the man who was then standing about ten feet from me. "He has a gun," I yelled over and over. "He has a gun."
"We'll call the police," the woman shouted and they both ran back into the building.
The man dropped the cloth and began to run north out of the parking lot and disappeared around the side of the building. The proprietors of the business came out again and said that the police would arrive shortly. A man who had been sitting in his vehicle joined me. He had been watching the whole thing, he said.
Fear finally caught up with me when I considered what could have happened. I had been very lucky. I shook uncontrollably for the first time since the incident.
A policeman arrived in a matter of moments. He sat in the front seat of the patrol car with the police radio while he relayed a description and a sketchy account of the event to the dispatcher. I'm glad there were other witnesses, because the acne scared face was the only feature I could add to the picture.
While he was getting details from us, suddenly he told us he had to leave to take another call. "Probably our same guy," he said. "I'll be back. Nobody go anywhere until I return."
The other three people were excited and anxious to exchange details after the officer left. When he returned a few minutes later, he said they caught the man. He had robbed two women at a school three or four blocks away, then hijacked a man's van. They caught up with him about a quarter mile to the southeast.
He asked the Indian man and me to go with him to identify the suspect and we comply willingly. As we rode to the scene of the capture, the Indian man told me this was the first time anything like this had happened in the twelve years that they had run the business.
"It can happen anywhere," I said, still shaking.
There were three other police cars there when we arrived and they were taking statements from people. The officer led us to one of the patrol cars where the suspect was sitting in the back seat. He asks me if that was the guy who pulled the gun on me. The suspect was looking straight at me through the window with a blank expression.
"That's him," I said aloud. Then, still staring back at the suspect, I silently mouthed the words "son of a bitch," in an exaggerated manner so he couldn't miss my message. His expression didn't change.
The policeman took both our statements in more detail. He told us the man had just been released from prison. "You were smart to take your stand where you did," the officer says, "you did just the right thing."
Several months later when his jury trial came up, I testified to what happened that day, and the man, who was a career criminal was sent back to prison.
I've thought a lot about the incident and several things about my reactions surprised me. I have never thought of myself as good at thinking on my feet. I generally need time to mull over my options, and it seems odd to me that I did not freeze in fear. That would have been my guess before the attempted hijacking.
What I did was immediately recall a television program and the advice given for such a situation. And I simply did it, believing that was my best chance of surviving. The strength of my scream also surprised me; I'm usually a quiet person, but I screamed LOUD; I didn't stop until the man was gone. I was also surprised that the incident left no emotional residue. By the time I had identified the suspect a few minutes later, the shaking had stopped and I slept fine that night. I was not nervous the next time I went to the same business downtown, and have not been fearful since. I haven't started looking over my shoulder expecting trouble. Nothing.
I'm not a brave person. Lots of things frighten me; public speaking, fast drivers, tall buildings, Ferris wheels. The thought of riding a roller coaster is terrifying. I don't watch scary movies because they scare me too much. So why, when a man points a gun at my face, do I remember exactly what to do and do it without fear? I simply don't know.