I'm going to share a story with you that a friend shared with me; I have her permission to share it with you. I have taken the liberty of changing the names of the individuals involved to protect their privacy.
I've known Kate for a long time. Divorced with one child - a daughter in college - she lives by herself in her home in the suburbs of a major city not too far from where I grew up. She has an advanced degree and has a professional job for a large employer. Over the years, I'd provided some basic handgun training to her, partly in response to threats her husband had made during their divorce proceedings. She'd emailed me floor plans of her home, and I'd given her some suggestions on what to do should someone try to break in while she and her daughter were there. We war gamed various scenarios that she might encounter and how she should respond to them. One of the key points I stressed to her was that she needed to make securing her daughter in a safe location during a home invasion a top priority.
What I didn't know at the time was how this advice potentially saved their lives. I also didn't know that the threat they would face wouldn't come in the form of a boogieman breaking into their home.
Kate's college aged kid came home from school from college break. During her time at home, she and some friends - whom Kate knew - went out partying one night. As it happens from time to time with young people in this demographic, the kids started taking acid. The resulting hallucinations were too much for Kate's daughter, who immediately returned home and told her mom what had happened. Kate put her daughter into bed and called one of Kate's friends over for help in determining what to do next.
The other kids in the group weren't far behind, arriving at Kate's house minutes later. One of the guys in the group - a college freshman, weighing about 200 pounds, had apparently taken four hits of acid. (I'm by no means an expert on illicit drugs, but I'm told that's a tremendous amount of it.)
And that's when it went down.
He began having horrific hallucinations and acting on them with incredible strength. In a matter of only minutes, he was able to:
- Throw Kate with such force she was airborne (twice), and in one instance hitting her head on a wall in the house.
- Jump through the glass of two separate windows and a glass storm door, completely naked, resulting in massive cuts and bleeding, not to mention blood stains and splatter throughout the house.
Kate's friend quickly surmised that they needed to call 911. Kate had been hesitant to do that, since she knew this kid, knew he didn't have evil intent, and thus didn't want him to get into trouble. But at some point, having a naked, bleeding, out of control teenage boy going in and our of your house by jumping through closed windows is too much for anyone to handle by themselves.
Police showed up and took control of the situation. Kate said it felt like it took an hour for them to arrive, yet her cell phone indicated she was on the phone with 911 for 11 minutes. Before it was all over, the young man was tasered, subdued, and taken to the hospital where he spent time in ICU and received over 150 stitches and staples. It does not appear any charges will be filed.
The young man's parents were most appreciative of Kate's efforts to help their son. They've been prompt to pay for window replacement and other repairs.
Kate took all of this hard. She told me she was not only physically sore for days after the incident, mentally and emotionally she felt she had failed. Kate didn't talk to anyone for days after this, hardly leaving her bed for the first four days afterwards. "This happened on my watch," she told me several times. "I feel responsible for these kids. I should have called 911 sooner. I should have known what to do for him."
After she told me this story, I told her we should debrief and learn what we can from the situation. In summary, I told her:
1. You learned you can take a punch. That boy roughed her up pretty well. Despite the trauma, she learned she could stay focused and keep her priorities. She played through the pain and didn't let it distract her. As I tell my CHL students, real life isn't like paintball, where once you get shot, you're out of the game. In the real world, when you get hit, shot, stabbed, clubbed, tripped or whatever, the rules don't prohibit you from staying in the fight.
2. You quickly formulated a plan to determine when you'd use deadly force. Kate quickly surmised that she was not willing to use her gun to subdue this kid for a host of reasons, even when he was attacking her. However, she told me that had he begun attacking one of the girls, she would not have hesitated. I reminded her that as citizens, we may use deadly force when we have a reasonable belief of an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death. Note we need not determine what the motive and intent are of the attacker - it's irrelevant why they are doing what they are doing. Some people might disagree with her assessment not to use deadly force on the kid after he'd assaulted her twice, but I'm not going to question her decision. It's one thing to shoot someone breaking into your house in the middle of the night with the intent to rape or rob you. It's another matter entirely to shoot someone you know - a friend of your child's - when they lack the ability to think logically.
3. You learned that you should have called 911 quicker. If I could pick one thing to improve upon here, it would be the fact she should have called 911 sooner than she did. I understand her motives here - she was hoping to calm the young man so that law enforcement wouldn't be involved. However, when he's fighting people and jumping through closed windows, that's when you have to realize you're not equipped to deal with this. None of us are, unless you do it for a living.
4. You learned how long it takes to get law enforcement to your house during a real emergency. Subtract a minute off of her call to reflect the fact that she was on the phone with them for a short period of time after the cops arrived. It took ten minutes for help to arrive. A tremendous amount of bad things can happen in ten minutes. Are you prepared to be your own first responder for ten minutes until police/fire/EMS arrives at your house?
5. You learned you could think rationally and work effectively in a high stress environment. We often simulate stress in tactical shooting courses to get people to realize what the real thing will be like. Kate has now been through the real thing, and now she knows she can handle a lot more than she thought she could.
There are other lessons here, but you get the point. Kate did a lot of things very well. Many people would have frozen up in that situation. She, on the other hand, was proactive, kept her focus, played through the pain, and never gave up on trying to fix the problem and on protecting her family.
One last thing - I reminded her this didn't happen "on her watch." She was not responsible for those young adults. She was sitting at home, minding her business, when they showed up at her home. I pointed out to her that none of us have a magic wand; we cannot fix everyone who is suffering, ill or in need of restoration. Kate was given an emergency, and she dealt with it in an effective, responsible manner.
I told her that she needs to build on this experience. Take comfort in the fact she did a lot of things correctly. Find lessons to learn from this. (One of the lessons is that she will now install a steel door and door frame for her bedroom to help create a safer room for her to shelter in during an emergency.) What she experienced and learned from that evening may save her life in the future.