After the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre I gathered my family close and thanked God for their safety. I prayed I would never suffer the uncertainty of a loved one’s fate.

Last Wednesday, December 26, my daughter and I were on our way to pick up a family member at Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento. As we were driving along a river road to the mall I heard sirens coming up behind me and pulled over to the right. A police car flew past with lights flashing and sirens blaring. I hoped there wasn’t an accident on the road ahead of us. About thirty seconds later we again heard sirens coming from behind us. This time three police cars flew by, followed shortly by several more police cars. I looked over at my daughter and saw the panic in her eyes. We knew something was going on at the mall. “Someone with a gun” was uppermost in our minds.

We turned on the radio, but there was no news yet, it was unfolding right in front of us. Hearing more sirens, we looked to our left just as a park ranger’s vehicle, lights flashing, went by. And then two more vehicles, unmarked cars with lights flashing, went by this time. My daughter started crying and I could only hold her hand and tell her it was going to be okay, all the time trying to keep my own panic at bay.

We neared the freeway and saw police car after police car exiting and heading for the mall. I was able to park on a side street facing the mall. We’d just parked when we got a text from our family member. He was all right, the store was in lock down, but thankfully he was safe. He didn’t know what was happening, but his store was not involved.

We soon saw news vans arriving and helicopters were flying above us. Loudspeakers were advising everyone to remain calm. This situation continued for what seemed like forever, but was probably more like an hour. Shoppers were finally being allowed to exit and cars were leaving the parking lot. We eventually learned that a fight had broken out in the food court and shoppers thought they’d heard gunfire. It was over. But it will remain in our memories forever.

I think the wave of senseless killings affects all of us. It’s heart-breaking, and it’s terrifying. There’s a sense of inevitability. When will it happen again? Where will it happen? I once teasingly called my daughter the “worst-case scenario” girl. Now, when I go into a movie theater I look for the nearest exit. When someone walks in front of the screen during the movie, I find myself looking hard at them for possible weapons. A trip to the mall is still enjoyable, I won’t say it isn’t. But I find myself more aware of my surroundings, and thinking about what I’ll do if the unthinkable happens.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of Sandy Hook. If you have a chance, take a moment to read my post about 11 tips which might save your life.

Take care and stay safe.

Here is some great safety advice!  My daughter e-mailed this to me today, but I’ve also heard about a great many of this precautionary measures in the community police academy workshops I’ve attended.

  Written by a Police Officer   (Take 5 minutes to read this. It may save your life or a loved one’s life.)1.  Tip from Tae Kwon Do:  The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do!

2.  Learned this from a tourist guide. If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Toss it away from you.  Chances are that he is more interested in your wallet and/or purse than you, and he will go for the wallet/purse. RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!

3.  If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy.  The driver won’t see you, but everybody else will. This has saved lives.

4.  Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sit (doing their checkbook, or making a list, etc.).   DON’T DO THIS!  The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go.   AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR , LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE.

5.  If someone is in the car with a gun to your head DO NOT DRIVE OFF, Repeat: DO NOT DRIVE OFF! Instead gun the engine and speed into anything, wrecking the car. Your Air Bag will save you. If the person is in the back seat they will get the worst of it. As soon as the car crashes bail out and run. It is better than having them find your body in a remote location.

 6.  A few notes about getting into your car in a parking lot or parking garage:  (a) Be aware: look around you, look into your car, at the passenger side floor , and in the back seat.  (b) If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger door.  Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their cars.  (c) Look at the car parked on the driver’s side of your vehicle, and the passenger side.  If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may want to walk back into the mall, or work, and get a guard/policeman to walk you back out. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. . . and better paranoid than dead.

 7.  ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs.  Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot.  This is especially true at NIGHT!

8.  If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control, ALWAYS RUN!  The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times; and even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ.  RUN, preferably in a zig-zag pattern!

9. As women, we are always trying to be sympathetic: STOP!  It may get you raped or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked ‘for help’ into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.

10.  Another Safety Point:  A woman heard a crying baby on her porch at night, and she called the police because it was late and she thought it was weird.  The police told her “Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.”  The lady then said that it sounded like the baby had crawled near a window, and she was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over.  The policeman said, “We already have a unit on the way; whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.”  He told her that they think a serial killer has a baby’s cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of their homes thinking that someone dropped off a baby.  He said they have not verified it, but have had several calls by women saying that they hear a baby’s cries outside their doors when they’re home alone at night.

11. Water scam! If you wake up in the middle of the night to hear all your taps outside running or what you think is a burst pipe, DO NOT GO OUT TO INVESTIGATE!  These predators turn on all your outside taps full blast so that you will go out to investigate and then attack.

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Stay alert, keep safe, and look out for your neighbors!  Please pass this on to all the women you know.  It may save a life.  Guys, you may want to send this to your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, etc.

 
     

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Image  —  Posted: July 30, 2012 in Shoes
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I want to first say that my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families of the Aurora, Colorado shooting.

The news is filled with stories of the shooting, the victims, and the gunman.  One comment made by the media was about how Columbine forever changed the way we react to armed shooters.  Much like 9/11 changed the way airlines respond to hijackers.

I was working for General Motors Acceptance Corp. (GMAC) in California in 1990 when a branch office in Jacksonville, Florida was the scene of a massacre.  James Edward Pough walked into a large office of 85 employees and opened fire, killing eight, before turning the gun on himself.  Survivors talked about the victims who tried to hide under their desks, only to be killed by the gunman who went from desk to desk, shooting them one by one.

I work on a college campus, and after the Virginia Tech attack by Seung-Hui Cho, campus police put together a workshop about what to do if an armed gunman was loose on campus.  The first thing they said was “if you think you hear gunfire, then it is very likely that what you’re hearing is gunfire.”  Do not run outside to investigate.  Barricade yourself in a room (preferably one without windows) and stay there until law enforcement arrives and gives the all-clear.  The officers conducting the workshop explained that a shooter, or shooters, are out to kill as many people as they can as quickly as they can.  They will generally fire into a room, but will more likely move on to easier targets, rather than taking the time to break in.

As we walked into the workshop, we were all handed ping-pong balls.  Later, as part of a simulation exercise, we were told that one of the officers was going to come through the door with his arms up as if holding a weapon.  We were told to throw the ping-pong balls at him the second he opened the door.  His reaction was to raise his hands to cover his face.  Obviously, this would not have worked in the Aurora situation, but I believe preparation for whatever situation you find yourself in is helpful.

The workshop also included a video of actual footage from the Columbine massacre.  It showed the killers firing their weapons, not the actual killing of victims.  But it was still very chilling in spite of that.  At one point you see the two shooters spraying bullets and then pausing to yell at someone to “stop!”  And you hear the voice of the would-be victim yelling back “F**k you!”  That student survived.

I know I’m better prepared for having attended the workshop.   I hope that none of us ever have to make that kind of split-second decision, but I’m glad to be able to share these possible life-saving measures.

Take care.

My daughter and I had the privilege of attending a citizen’s academy put on by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office in partnership with the Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.  As part of the academy, all attendees were invited to a preview of an independent film titled Heaven’s Rain, which tells the true story of Brooks Douglass, who survived, along with his sister Leslie, the home invasion and murder of his mother and father in October of 1979.  The movie preview included a speech and a meet and greet with Mike Vogel, who plays Brooks in the movie.  Later in the month, at a breakfast hosted by the citizen’s academy, Brooks Douglass was the keynote speaker.  To say that he is a powerful speaker is a gross understatement.  The tragedy that defined his life radiates in every word he speaks.  And he is a staunch supporter of victim’s rights legislation (with good reason).  I’ve noted some of the victims’ rights legislation he’s authored below.

I found the movie to be a powerful story of love, unbearable loss and, ultimately, a story of forgiveness and triumph over tragedy.  While listening to Brooks speak, I found myself wondering if I have it in me to forgive like that.

After missionary work on the Amazon River in Brazil, Brook’s father moved them to Putnam City, Oklahoma, where he became the Baptist minister of the First Baptist Church.  In October of 1979 a drifter named Glen Ake and his partner, Steven Hatch, entered the Douglass home, drew guns and tied up Richard, his wife Marilyn, and 16 year old Brooks.  They then repeatedly assaulted Brooks’ 12 year old sister Leslie.  When they were done, they shot the family and left them for dead.  Brooks’ father and mother died at the scene, but Brooks and Leslie managed to escape.  Brooks drove Leslie to the hospital in the family car.

Above, I mentioned that Brooks became a victims’ rights advocate.   In addition to having to endure the horrific loss of their parents, their terrible ordeal continued for years.  The first part of which was having to pay for the medical costs associated with the attack.  Their family vehicle was impounded, and they had to pay to get it back.  They ultimately suffered the loss of their family home as well.

Ake and Hatch were caught, convicted and sentenced to death in 1990.  But, for the next sixteen years Brooks and Leslie were dragged into court time and time again to testify, each time having to relive that night.  Finally, on August 9, 1996, Steven Hatch was put to death by lethal injection.  But in a 1986 retrial, Glen Ake was convicted again, but that time received life in prison.

I believe a lesser man would have fallen and never picked himself up again.  Brooks, however, earned his law degree.  At the age of 27 he became the youngest state senator in Oklahoma history.  The following is just a small sampling of the legislation he authored:

Senate Joint Resolution 24 – Victims’ Rights Amendment

Senate Bill 610 – Victims’ rights Act defining Oklahoma Crime Victims’ Compensation Act

House Bill 2056 – Victim/Family allowed to witness execution

Senate Bill 631 – Amending legislation requiring presentation of victim impact statements in plea bargain proceedings

A statement Brooks made during his speech really resonated with me and helps explain the drive behind his fight for victim’s rights:  “the system must no longer step over the body of a victim to read the criminal his rights.”

Forgiveness – in 1995, while Brooks was on a legislative tour of a state prison, he saw Glen Ake and requested a meeting with him.  In his speech Brooks said he walked into the room with it in mind to somehow go after this man who’d caused him so much pain.  Instead he sat and listened to Ake apologize for what he’d done.  When he finished talking, Brooks got up and walked to the door.  He paused and then turned around and walked back to Ake.  He then told him he forgave him.

Am I capable of that kind of forgiveness?  I honestly don’t know.  I pray I never have to find out.

If you are interested in seeing this inspiring movie, you can purchase Heaven’s Rain at:

http://heavensrainmovie.com/store.php

I believe it’s also available to rent from Blockbuster on line.

As a side note:  Brooks plays his father in the movie.  He wanted to do it to honor his father’s memory; however, he confessed that it was one of the most difficult things he’s ever done.  I can only imagine.

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Image  —  Posted: July 15, 2012 in Shoes
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THIS AND THAT…

Posted: July 11, 2012 in Forensics
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I’m finally back on track. I apologize for the delay in posting.

Writer’s of crime and mystery, check out the Writer’s Forensics Blog by D. P. Lyle, M.D. @ http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/

 Do you have a question about a body in your book?  He’ll answer your questions.  The site is also a great source of information, check out his links, listing useful sites for writer’s. 

Samples of questions addressed on his blog:

Can a blow to the chest kill an adult male?

How would my 1925 detective determine that a stain was human blood?

What injuries might cause my character’s amnesia and how would it be evaluated and treated?

And it’s not all forensics.  Guest bloggers talk about such topics as:

Point of View

Creating tension and pacing.

Caution to check your facts and why it’s important.

This blog is a gold mine of information!