May 212012

An innocent stranded motorist is suddenly attacked and beaten up by four assailants.

Bad guys are clever, and disguise their evil intent by adopting familiar and ‘safe’ seeming guises.

In this article, we look at the lessons to be learned in one such case, where what seemed like nothing more than a person begging for change ended up as a brutal beating by four youths.

A motorist’s car broke down not far from where he lived, late one night.  He decided the easiest thing to do was to leave the car where it was, in an upscale residential area in Tampa FL, and walk the short distance home.  As a fit soldier enlisted in the Army, the thought of walking a couple of blocks, in a good neighborhood, was no big deal.

Three youths were walking in the same direction, ahead of him.  One of them turned back to the soldier and asked if he could spare a dollar.  The soldier agreed and reached to get a dollar from his wallet.

So far, so good, right?  Nothing too fearsome about that, and if you were that soldier, the chances are you’d be totally relaxed.  The youth had asked you for a dollar, and you had agreed to give it to him; besides which, the youth wasn’t overwhelmingly physically threatening or anything.  Typically we would not be surprised at a protest or complaint if we refused a panhandler, but don’t we sort of think, when we agree to give them the money they ask for, that there is no reason to be concerned any more?

But then, lightning fast, while the soldier was distracted reaching for his wallet, and without any warning, the youth viciously attacked him, knocking him to the ground.  A second youth quickly joins in, and now the soldier on the ground is being kicked by two youths above him.  You don’t have to have studied strategy and tactics in the Army to understand that this is not a good situation.

The third youth comes back diffidently, watches for a while, but when we judges that the soldier is no threat at all, he then joins in too.  Now it is three to one.

And – wait – there’s more!  A fourth person comes running up from behind.  But, bad news for the victim.  This fourth person is coming to join in the fun and starts attacking the soldier too.

At some stage the youths tire of their fun, steal the soldier’s wallet and cell phone, and go on their way.

Here’s a video of the encounter, caught on a neighbor’s security camera. You should look at it primarily to see how quickly the initial encounter goes bad.

What lessons can we learn from this, so as to avoid it happening to us, too?  We suggest there are some important learning opportunities here :

1.  There’s No Such Thing as a Safe Neighborhood

As we’ve said before, we’re not the only ones who commute to work each day.  Bad guys commute too, and many times, the places they choose to work are ‘good/safe’ neighborhoods.

While it is true that some neighborhoods are clearly high-risk right from the get-go, the main factor that defines the safety of an area is not the location itself, but the people around you.  That is the thing you need to key in on.  Which leads to :

2.  Keep Strangers At a Distance

Distance is your friend.  Distance = time = safety.  The more distance between you and an unknown person or persons, the more time you have to judge the situation, to anticipate potential threats, to prepare responses, and to control the situation rather than be controlled by events.

How long would it take you to get your gun out of its concealment location and point it at an attacker?  You need to practice drawing your pistol – not from a nice Kydex range holster on your unobstructed hip, but whatever form of concealment holster you use, and while wearing normal ‘street’ clothes.  Get this process as optimized as possible, and have someone time it.  Whatever that time is, add 1/2 a second (or perhaps even 1 second) to that time as the addition reaction time you’ll need from the point at which you detect a threat needing you to grab your gun and the time at which you start reaching for it.

Now, that final time might be 2 seconds (it almost surely won’t be less), and it might be 3 or even 4 seconds.  Whatever it is, now look at the time from another perspective.  How far can a bad guy sprint in that same time period.  Have your friend time you – or, if he/she is faster than you, you time them for that long a sprint and see how far they get.

Take that distance, add another six or more feet, and that is your danger zone.  Anyone inside that zone can get to you before you can pull your gun and shoot them.

If there are two people, your danger zone expands because you have to assess and shoot two people now, which will take longer.  Three people – more expansion.  And so on.

At the risk of stating the obvious, that danger zone is huge, isn’t it!  You might have thought that the danger zone was 10 ft, or maybe even 20 ft.  But we’ll be you’ve ended up measuring a 30 or even 40 foot danger zone just by this one simple experiment.

Any time someone is within your danger zone, you are vulnerable.  As much as is possible in our often crowded society, you need to keep people outside that zone, and you need to be keyed in on who is inside it and what they are doing.

3.  Take Control of the Situation

Are you the puppet or the puppeteer?  Are you making the bad guy change his plan and react/respond to you, or are you unknowingly responding to him and doing what he wants you to do?

You need to use the distance between you and the possible bad guy to create a series of escalating events that hopefully cause the problem to go away.  However, if these escalating events don’t end the problem, they give you the certainty that the person you are facing is indeed a lethal threat and needs to be stopped.

So, starting from the beginning, if you see someone coming towards you who you have concerns about, simply turn and walk in another direction.  Cross the road.  In some way, do something that means your paths will not know cross.

If it was merely an innocent coincidence that you were on intersecting paths before, then you have solved the problem.  He’ll continue on his way, and you will now be going in a different way, keeping the distance open.  When it is safe, you’ll resume proceeding in the direction you wish to travel in.

But if the other guy now changes his path and continues to close on you, he has clearly signaled to you that this is not an innocent encounter.  He wants to get to you.  Your first mental trip-wire has now been sprung, and an alarm is ringing in your head.

The bad guy is relying on you behaving passively like all other victims.  He is relying on you not wanting to cause a fuss or make a scene, allowing him to get into your danger zone and then it is all too late for you.

But there’s no rule that says you have to do what the bad guy wants.  So if this person continues towards you, in a loud assertive voice tell him to stop :  Stop!  Go Away!  Do Not Come Closer!  Back Off!  Say whatever you want, using short simple words that make your meaning clear.  Hold up your support hand (ie not the hand you’ll hold your pistol with) to visually signal him as well.

Keep moving, yourself, to open up the distance (and of course, keep looking for the bad guy’s friends).

If the bad guy keeps coming, no matter what the reason and no matter what sort of excuse he may offer, he has now triggered your second mental alarm.  And, talking about triggers, now is the time to grab your gun and point in at the probable attacker.  Speak to him again (and keep moving and looking for his partners) :  “Stop or I shoot!  Go Away!”  Say this like you mean it, because you really do mean it.

If he continues towards you, and if you have no other easy option (like running away) you’re probably going to have to shoot.  And think about it

(a)  You changed direction to avoid him, he changed direction to get to you

(b)  You told him to stop, to go away, and he kept coming towards you

(c)  You pointed a gun right at him, and told him if he didn’t back off, you’d shoot him – and still he kept coming towards you.

What would you do if you were the other person, and someone warned you off?  If a person tells you to go away and says they’ll shoot you if you don’t, would you continue to approach them?  Not in a million years would you do that.

Only a person with evil intent would continue to approach a total stranger in such a situation.

You need to understand this, so you have the confidence to shoot if necessary (and of course it is always best to simply run away if you can).  You’ve given the person three chances to back off.  They’ve continued to close the distance each time, and are now within your danger zone.  You just know that when they get right up to you, they’re not going to simply shake you by the hand and wish you a happy day.

And Most Important of All

All of the preceding assumes that you have your pistol with you.  Don’t leave home without it.  Even when you know you’ll only be walking around in a ‘good’ neighborhood.  Even when you’ll only be in your own home neighborhood – you hopefully don’t need your gun to protect you from the next door neighbors, but you might need it if you have commuting criminals who have decided to do their day’s work (or, more likely, their night’s work) on your block.

Whether it is innocent/safe seeming surroundings, or innocent/safe seeming people and encounters, nothing is guaranteed safe.  Always be alert and on your guard, and keep as much distance between yourself and strangers as possible.

May 012012

Suburban paradise and safety? Read how an occupied house close to these three was attacked by four youths.

So there you are – returning home after a tiring day at the office, or maybe after an equally tiring time at the mall or supermarket.  Perhaps you have your hands full with shopping bags and other stuff you’re bringing in from the car, trying to bring it all with you in a single trip from the car.

Most of all – now that you’re returning back to your home – your place of greatest comfort, safety and refuge – you’re already starting to relax, to unwind, and you’ve already dropped down the color code of mental alertness from your usual outside the house level of yellow to the semi-sleepwalking condition known as white.  (Read about the color code here if you’re unfamiliar with it.)

What happens next?  Perhaps you’re just a few steps into your house when – all of a sudden – three armed robbers who had already broken in while you were away jump you.  The next few seconds could go either way, from a sudden and very bad outcome to you, to a still not good outcome.

How likely is this?  More likely than you might think.  Here’s a terrifying list of statistics that suggests, among other things, that a home invasion occurs somewhere in the US once every 15 seconds, and that 47% of home invasions result in severe injuries for people at home.

But let’s look not at the abstract statistics, but at a specific reality.  Please read this Seattle Times article about what happened in the decidedly upmarket and supposedly ‘good’ and ‘safe’ neighborhood in the 9800 block of Marine View Drive, Mukilteo WA 98275 (click the link for a Google map and choose the streetview option).

This was a story with a happy ending.  The sudden return of apparently at least four other people caused the home invaders to abandon whatever they had been doing; but it could have gone the other way and resulted in a much more serious tragedy.

Lessons From This Real-world Example

This is a very useful example of a real world situation.  Although the article is brief, we can learn several lessons from it.

First, although the neighborhood this happened in is definitely upmarket, the four youths who carried out the home invasion/robbery were not locals.  They came from Kent, which is 45+ miles away.  There’s no way they’d end up on Marine View Drive in Mukilteo (the town is off the major arterials and the road is not really a through road at all and there’s not a lot of local night-life to attract out-of-town youths) unless they’d deliberately gone looking for places to burgle.

Yes, these days the bad guys also have to put up with long commutes on their way to and from ‘work’.  Living in a good neighborhood is no certain guarantee of safety.

Second, there were a lot of bad guys.  Three of them invaded the house, with at least one gun, and apparently unconcerned by the fact that an adult man was currently at home.  Remember to always plan for encountering multiple adversaries.  ‘Rats hunt in packs’.

Third, not only were there three bad guys in the house, there was a fourth guy outside the house, in their getaway car.  Remember that just because you can’t see additional bad guys doesn’t mean they’re not somewhere close by.

Fourth, the girls returning home probably saw lights on, knew that Dad would be home, and never thought for a moment that just because their father was home, their house wasn’t therefore guaranteed to be safe.  Not all burglars only attack empty houses.  The most dangerous ones happily commit ‘home invasions’ and break into occupied houses.

Fifth – and we’ll write more on this another time – note how the four youths shot back at the home occupants when driving off.  Normally you’d consider an assailant to no longer be a threat when they are running away from you.  This is just one of many examples that contradict that assumption.  Remain behind cover and/or continue the fight until they are safely out of range.

So, how do we apply these lessons and include them into our daily routines.  Here are some semi-rhetorical questions for you :

  • Do you ever stop to check your house security before entering it after returning from somewhere?  Almost certainly not because the only thorough way of doing this would be to walk the entire perimeter, checking all doors and windows for signs of forcible entry.
  • Do you enter defensively and quickly scout the house for signs of any current or recently departed intruders?  Probably not, and we’re not necessarily suggesting you should, every time you come home.
  • Do you have a weapon with you and ready to quickly deploy as you enter your home?  Hopefully yes – hopefully you always – including at home – have a weapon close at hand.

Bottom line – you should always be alert when entering your home after an absence (short or long) and aware that arriving home does not necessarily mean you’ve finally arrived at your safest place and you can relax.

Sometimes it might be quite the opposite.  You’ve placed yourself out of sight and earshot of the outside world, and until you are certain there are no threats inside your house, rather than being a place of safety, it is a place of possible danger.  In addition, just because there are other family members in the house does not mean they’ve not been joined by home invaders too.

There’s no reason to become paranoid upon returning home every day.  But two simple things will help reduce your vulnerability at this time.

All Clear Code Word with People in the House

First, have a system arranged with your family members, so that whenever someone enters the house after an absence, they call out some sort of phrase, and the other people in the house respond with a specific safe-word reply.  It doesn’t matter so much what the greeting is that the returning home person calls out, but the response must be exactly the ‘all clear’ response, and anything else that is said instead is a signal for danger.

For example, you get home and call out ‘Honey, I’m home’.  If your spouse calls out ‘Welcome home’ maybe that is the safe-word signal.  But if your spouse calls out ‘Welcome back’ or ‘I’m in the kitchen, dear’ or anything else, that means there is a problem.

In such a case, you should immediately run away, out of the house and take up a safe position where you can watch the house from a distance.  As soon as you are safe, call the police and tell them the situation.  If you stay in the house, you risk becoming a part of the classic tv/movie cliché of the bad guy confronting you with a gun pointed at your spouse’s head and demanding that you too surrender.  Leave the hostage rescue (a very difficult task) to the experts.

If you call out your greeting and get no reply, that might mean the people you expect to be in the house didn’t hear you, or maybe they’ve gone outside, or maybe they are under duress and can’t call out.

If there’s no reply to your greeting, stop where you are, look around you and listen.  Call out again loudly.  If no reply, evacuate the house, take up a safe position, and phone your spouse or whoever else you expected to be in the house, either on the home/landline or on their personal cell phone.  Ask them where they are and why they didn’t hear you.  Have a code word/phrase that means ‘all safe’ or perhaps use the same code word/phrase as if you were exchanging phrases in the house.

If you can’t reach whoever you expected to be home by phone, and if this is unusual (ie your spouse is usually 99% of the time always with their cell phone and it never runs out of battery, etc), then you have to decide what to do next.  Call the police, perhaps.  Wait a while and try phoning again, perhaps.

There’s no point in sneaking around your house looking for any external signs of forced entry, because if someone was at home, what could have happened is the home invaders simply walked up to the front door and rang the door bell, and your spouse or whoever opened the door for them.  That procedure would leave no sign of any forcible entry at all.

A Simple Check Upon Returning Home

If you return home in a situation where you do not expect anyone else to be home, then clearly there’s no point in calling out to announce your return, because there shouldn’t be anyone answering.

Instead, as you approach your house, first be aware of any unusual vehicles parked on the street reasonably close to your residence (easier to do if you live in a single family dwelling than if you live in a block of condos/apartments of course).  Then, as you get closer, do a quick visual inspection of the door frames and windows of your residence.  If all looks normal, you can proceed to cautiously enter.

Now, once you get into your home, move away from the doorway slightly (this is a ‘fatal funnel’ – a point where bad guys would be expecting you to transit through and so may be ready to attack you there) then pause and strain all your senses to see if anything seems out-of-order.

Listen for any strange sounds.  Smell for any strange smells.  Look for anything unusually out-of-place.  It is amazing the type of unconscious clues which you might pick up.  You might hear an unusually loud sound from outside, suggesting there is a door or window open somewhere else in the house.  You might notice something out-of-place.  You might sense the slightest whiff of an odor that you’re not familiar with.  The house might be unusually hot or cold.  A light might be on that you didn’t expect to see on.

You might pick up on one of these clues without even consciously realizing it – you might simply sense that something is wrong.

What do you do if something feels somehow wrong?  Do you urgently bolt out of the house and call the police.  You can guess how that conversation would go :  ‘Hello, 911?  I just got home and, I don’t know, but something felt wrong, so I ran away and I’m calling you – would you send a team of officers over to check my house please, just in case there’s a burglar inside?  No, I didn’t see any signs of a break-in or anything.  It just feels wrong to me.’

That’s a request that might get you a low priority response some time later (depending on your police department), but if you were to repeatedly call on that basis, you’d soon end up with zero response or worse, a request to stop wasting the police’s time.

Instead, we suggest you stay doing exactly what you were doing.  Stand still, using your senses as best you can, and particularly now your sense of hearing.  If there is someone in your house, either they know you’ve just returned home or they don’t know this.  If they don’t know, you’ll hear them moving before too long.  If they do know, and if they are hiding somewhere, time is on your side, not theirs.  You are in your home.  They are out-of-place.  Before too long, they’ll start to wonder what you are doing, and start to worry about what else might be happening.  Standing perfectly still and silent will spook them.

Of course, as part of this, you’ll adopt a defensive posture and position, you’ll make sure no-one can creep up from behind you, and you’ll get ready with your self-defense pistol.

If nothing happens in a short while, you’re probably okay.  If you’re still a bit concerned, leave the house and patrol around the perimeter, looking for signs of break-ins.

A Quiet Word About Silence

Note – at the risk of stating the obvious, it is best, when you leave your house, not to have any televisions or other sound generating sources operating.

Noise can mask what intruders are doing.  You ideally should return to a totally silent home so any unusual noises are immediately obvious.

On the other hand, some people like to leave a radio playing or television on when they go out, so as to portray an impression of the house being occupied in the hope this would dissuade burglars.  There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but if you do, make sure you have some type of way of turning off the sound source before you enter the house.  Maybe there’s an app on your phone for doing this, or maybe you simply have an X-10 type remote control that can turn off the power to the radio or television.


Our homes can be safe places, but their usual safety can lull us into a false sense of security.

When we leave our residence, anything can and might happen in our absence, and we need to take some prudent simple precautions upon returning home to ensure it remains safe for us before and as we enter it.

Updates :

1.  Please see our subsequent article ‘When Going to Help Your Elderly Husband is the Wrong Thing to Do‘ for another example of a home invasion/attack and where a codeword signal could have helped save an 84 yr old woman from being raped.

2.  Please also see our subsequent article ‘Being Politically Correct Can Be Dangerous‘ for an example of the danger that is also present between when you exit your vehicle and enter your residence.