This post is really out of the norm! I like to keep things light and happy but I decided to write about my experience yesterday in hopes that by reading this, I may be able to save someone’s life.
I am always aware of my surroundings when I’m by myself. Maybe it’s because I grew up going to a ranch every weekend, or because I grew up in a big city but I’m always scanning for dangers and yesterday that saved my life.
I was making a fun gift to ship to a friend- a gallon sized mason jar filled with her favorite candy- skittles! I decided to stop at the new “5 and Below” store because they have a huge candy section! "5 and Below" is located in a big strip mall close to the highway. The strip center has Target and then rounds the corner to Bath and Body Works, Office Depot, Ulta, TJ Maxx, Party City, 5 and Below, and liquor store, and ends with our grocery store- Randalls. If you are from the Katy area you know exactly what I’m talking about but if you’re not- I just wanted to give you an idea of the size of this strip mall! The parking lot is huge too!
As I pulled into the parking lot in the area in front of "5 and Below" I thought about the possibility of robbers crouched between cars and decided to park in the far back. My coworker, Maria, had just been robbed by a man crouching in between cars so I parked towards the back so I wouldn’t be sandwiched between any cars where someone could crouch and hide.
Before I got out of my car I did my “peace of mind” scan and looked for anything suspicious- people sitting in running cars, anyone lingering around, etc. I saw was a gold suburban parked even further back than me- way at the very edge of the parking lot with a bearded man sitting inside. The suburban wasn’t very old and it had dark tinted windows. It was clear he was looking at me and speaking on the phone.
My brain immediately started thinking about the worst so I started to assume he could be the “watch out” to point out possible victims to the actual robbers. And as those thoughts rolled through my head I talked myself down. “No he’s probably waiting for his wife in TJ Maxx.” Or “he doesn’t like to talk and drive so he pulled over to this parking lot to talk about business.” And plus I’m a young girl in workout clothes getting out of my car so of course he’s going to look! Whatever it is he had given me no reason to find him a threat yet so I got out of my car and went to 5 and Below.
Turns out 5 and Below sells every candy under the sun, except skittles, so I decided to walk down the strip-mall sidewalk to Randalls- they’d for sure have skittle there. I left the store on guard again- like I always am… and how I’m glad I am. A few cars grabbing groceries drove by, looked for parking spots, then I noticed one car rolling slowly next to me. There are a lot of slow drivers around grocery stores but this one was moving directly next to me. I turned to see the gold suburban. The guy was staring at me and talking on his phone- clearly about me- and driving at the same pace of me walking. I decided I am not going to be an easy target who’s too scared to look him in the eyes. So I stop, turned, and stared at him and made eye contact so he knew- that I knew what he looked like. He made a backwards peace sign and covered his face with it and sped off. (Today I googled the meaning of a backwards peace sign and it means "I'm watching you.")
I tried memorizing his face but I didn’t get a good look. He had a beard and had sunglasses on but what I did notice was his size. He was a big guy who clearly worked out a lot. If he wanted something from me there was no doubt he’d muscle his way.
For those who don’t know me, I’m 5’2” and about 110 pounds. I have auburn hair and fair skin. The truth is- I really stand out in public places in my area. Being an outlier, you naturally catch an eye. So I’m used to being looked at. But this was a new level of being looked at- I was being watched.
I was a bit shaken that someone had had been watching me but I thought- "at least I scared him off" and went about my business. I bought my 6 pounds of skittles (it was a BIG jar), and walked out of Randalls. I looked down the parking lot to see the gold suburban parked directly next to my car.
No. Walking to my car was the last thing I was about to do at this moment. I walked back down the sidewalk and when the car didn’t move I walked into the Party City. There were two young girls behind the counter who didn’t look like much help. I wanted some large man to walk me to my car but there wasn’t one there. As I was thinking about what to do, inside the store, and out of sight, the gold suburban drove off toward the highway. I decided not to waste any time and took off power walking toward my car. I was half expecting to be robbed so I had prepared myself with an empty purse. I put my debit card and license inside the huge skittles bag and had my phone and keys in hand. My other hand held my purse. I thought- if he (and whoever else is in the back seat of the suburban) takes my purse they’ll get my cute bag, hand sanitizer, sunglasses and tampons. But there will be nothing of value!
I power-walked along the row of cars, heading as fast as I could to the back of the aisle where my car was parked. I was about three cars away from my own when, out of nowhere, the gold suburban swung up behind me and skidded in front of me diagonally- blocking me in. It suddenly occurred to me that my purse wasn’t all they could take. They could take me! I started looking in all directions like a mad woman. I know about distractors- one guy distracts your attention- asks you for directions, or what-not while someone from behind you grabs you when you’re off guard.
The guy rolled down his window and started talking "hey do I know you from somewhere?”
“No!” I yelled it at the top of my lungs. If they wanted me, I was going to make sure everyone in that parking lot heard about it.
“Hey I feel like I know you from somewhere, where do I know you from. Look at me- I think I know you” he’s saying all of this while still on his phone- as if he wanted someone on the line to hear this.
I was still looking all around trying to figure out what the ploy was going to be. I didn’t want to look at him and let my guard down while one of his guys came and grabbed me “I don’t know you get away from me” I screamed as loud as possible.
The guy looked at me pissed off and sped off. He was so blocked in, that he had to back up before pulling off. I saw someone move through the dark tinted windows in the back seat as he drove off. I was only a few steps from my car now and I began to make a run for it! I frantically jumped in my car and locked it and tried to quickly access the situation. Am I safe now? Let me think for a second before I drive off. My car had just been blocked from my view throughout that encounter. Could someone have gotten in my car during that time?
I nervously turned my head around to find no one in my car- thank goodness. I was just a nervous wreck. I started to notice how much I was shaking and sweating. I wanted to cry but I didn’t feel like it was over yet. He had reappeared in the parking lot before- he could do it again. I should have got his license plate number as he sped away and I was so mad at myself for not thinking to do that. All of these thoughts were going through my brain when my boss texted me- about the skittles! I decided to hit call and called and talked to her while driving along to the gym to calm myself down. The entire way I kept looking in my rear view for the gold suburban.
That was yesterday and today is a new day. I got up, went to work, and now am about to go run an errand. I have this normal day, not because I did anything brave yesterday, but because of two things- I’m here today
1- I was aware of my surroundings and...
2- I didn’t let myself be an easy target.
Today I was reading about kidnapping rates which lead me to learning about sex trafficking. Every once in a while you’ll hear a story on the news but I had no clue that sex trafficking was a huge deal in America. In my head it was a problem in developing countries but that doesn’t mean that we are exempt from this issue. In Texas, a study from 2011 reported 700 girls kidnapped for sex trafficking in a 30 day period. That's just Texas alone. And those numbers are getting increasingly worse. They typically target minors (which I very much look 17 years old) who are petite, alone, and an easy target. Oh and you’re significantly more likely to be targeted if you have long hair and are fair skinned! And Katy Mills Mall –our local mall is the worst location for sex trafficking kidnapping in our entire area. I don’t know if I’ve been blind about it up to this point, but I would never have gone to the mall alone if I had been exposed to these reports.
The guy wanted more than my purse, he had positioned his car to take me. The movement in the back seat was probably the person in charge of grabbing me while my guard was down. My screaming and awareness had scared them off but who knows about the next girl.
That’s why I decided to write this article. I want everyone to be as aware as ever as your surroundings. Take mental notes of who’s around you, what kind of cars, is anyone out of the norm? Next always be on guard- don’t dig through your purse, be on your phone, let a person distract you. Always scan your surroundings in public.
Cody mentioned to me that I should get my CHL. My friend said I should stop carrying purses. My mom said I shouldn’t go anywhere by myself. And Maria said I should delete all my social media accounts. But to me the fact stands- if that guy had the opportunity to grab me- he would have. Regardless of a gun in my bag, purse or no purse, social media account, etc. If he had the chance he would have taken me. And that’s where we can change. Don’t give them the chance.
This case has been filled with Harris County Precint 5 Sheriff's Office.