Archive for the ‘crime’ Category

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.


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:

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.

In the process of writing Dead By My Side I’ve had the good fortune to meet a number of law enforcement professionals and learned a great deal about crime scene and criminal investigations.  My daughter is a librarian at a college in Northern California.  While helping a student research case law, she came upon a website which I am very excited about.  It is a mystery and crime writer’s dream.  Just a very small sampling:

DNA taken from an abandoned container

I am a big fan of TV crime shows (The Closer, CSI, Criminal Minds).  And something that comes up time and again is police taking DNA from a drink container or a tossed cigarette without obtaining a warrant.  I’ve always wondered whether it was legal.

Third party consent

If a suspect has a computer, can a spouse give his/her permission for officers to search the computer files?

In “plain view”

In the course of serving a routine warrant, an officer sees a bloody knife and a trail of blood leading into another room.  He can seize the knife…right?  Maybe not

  • Was it “Lawful discovery”
  • Did he/she have “Probable cause”
  • Did he/she have “Lawful access”

Learn about this and much, much more.  This site is a virtual clearing house of criminal justice proceedings of all types.   Learn about arrests, entrapment, probable cause, lineups, motions to suppress, basic searches and “special searches” such as e-mail, voicemail, text messages.  Read actual case reports with actual court rulings (i.e., state supreme court, US Supreme court , appeals court, etc.).

The site is from the Office of the District Attorney of Alameda County entitled “Point of View.”  The link is:

Check it out!

Posted: May 12, 2012 in crime
Tags: ,

“Laci’s missing”

How many of us watched the news stories of Laci and Scott Peterson?  It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.  As the mother of two wonderful daughters, I thanked God every day that they were safe and sound. In the case of Laci Peterson, the family had closure.  Despite the heart breaking outcome, they were able to bring Laci and her unborn child home.

My daughters and I love scary movies.  We watch all the crime shows on television (Criminal Minds, CSI, The Closer) and are often teased about our fondness for the dark side.  I often tease my daughter Stefanie about being the “worst case scenario girl.”  But her cautious nature stood her in good stead when she encountered a very scary situation.  She had to travel on business and checked into a Holiday Inn Express.  Around one in the morning she answered a call to her room.  There was a man on the phone asking why she hadn’t joined him as she’d promised.  When she told him he had the wrong room, he said her name and described her to a tee.  Terrified, she immediately called hotel security.  She also called home and asked her husband to come and spend the rest of the night with her.  When she thought back over the evening, she remembered that the hotel desk person had said her name out loud and had also told her the room number.  The man had to have been in the lobby at the same time.

My daughter Kim and I had a scary experience as well.  We were driving home from San Francisco and stopped at a restaurant close to the freeway.  It was around midnight.  Afterwards, as we were heading for the car, I saw a woman approaching from across the parking lot.  She was mumbling something that I couldn’t understand.  Thinking she was just going to beg for money, I thought about just giving her some cash to send her on her way.  But, as she got closer, I heard what she was saying – “I’m not a bad person, honest I’m not.”  She kept repeating it.  I yelled at the top of my voice “NO, don’t come any closer.”  Kim and I quickly got into the car.  At that moment two men came up to the hood of the car and leaned over and scowled at us.  Thank God I went with my instincts!

But what about those victims who aren’t so lucky?  There was a show on television in 2009.  It was titled The Forgotten and was about a group of dedicated, amateur detectives (the Identity Network) who attempt to reconstruct the pieces of John and Jane Doe’s lives from what little evidence is left behind. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled.  However, it was instrumental in helping to find a woman who’d been missing for more than 20 years.  During commercial breaks, the show aired a public service announcement about the Justice Department’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).  Stephanie Clack’s sister, Paula Beverly Davis, had disappeared in 1987.  An aunt told her about NamUs.  Stephanie went online to the site and entered her sister’s identifying information which included two tattoos, one a unicorn and one a rose.

A DNA match confirmed the unidentified remains were those of her sister. But Stephanie was told that the cost of returning her sister’s remains amounted to $3,000.  Because of financial hardship, she didn’t know how she was going to afford the cost.  She was contacted by an executive producer of the Forgotten who offered to pay some of the expenses.  Christian Slater, the star of the TV show, mentioned Davis’s plight during an interview on Lopez Tonight. Due to these efforts and other fundraisers, Stephanie was able to finally bring her sister home.

NamUs is a newly launched searchable indexing system that catalogs both missing persons and unidentified human remains. The system not only does automatic checks for matches; it also allows anyone with Internet access to search its databanks, including law enforcement, medical examiners, families and the public.  Want to learn more?  Visit

Also check out:  The Doe Network (International Center for Unidentified and Missing Persons) at: