Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Surviving a Break-In

Of the seemingly random and violent crimes that occur in Dumaguete, a disturbingly high percentage involves break-ins. The motive is simple: robbery. Murder may not be the intent but is an incidental result. Frequently, the victims are women.

The pattern is typical. A robber scopes a house. At a time when he thinks it's unoccupied, he breaks in. Unfortunately, the resident arrives earlier than expected. Robber and victim startle each other. The victim panics and screams. In response, the robber pulls out his knife and stabs the victim dead.

Such is how it almost played out for my friend Pam (not her real name). Were it not for her presence of mind and providence, she would certainly have been another statistic for the tabloids.

What would have been just another day for Pam, a single girl living alone, began slightly askew. As she closed the gate behind her that morning, she saw a young man with the look of a vagrant loitering outside her apartment. She thought nothing more of it for the rest of the day.

When she came home that evening, the same man still hung around the area. Sensing danger and with no neighbors around, Pam decided to overshoot her gate. She cooled off elsewhere, waiting an hour before she returned.

In hindsight, she should have called for help at the first suspicion of a robbery. But when she came back an hour later, the man was gone. She looked around. Things looked quiet. Apart from the earlier visitations, nothing seemed out of place. She entered, closed the gate behind her, and proceeded into the house.

She crossed her small sala and entered her room. Only then did she notice that her cabinet had been rifled. She felt a presence behind her. She turned.

It was the young man. He brandished a screwdriver like a knife. He glared at her menacingly. His intent was clear.

If Pam had turned frantic and screamed, then the story would not have gone much further. But to her credit, she kept her head and therefore her life.

Pam cannot exactly recall how she managed to slip around the man through her bedroom door. She remembers muttering a prayer to the Sacred Heart. A voice in her head told her: "Get out of the house. Get out of the house." A lesson from Oprah echoed those thoughts: your chances of survival are higher outdoors.

"You got what you came for," Pam said to the burglar quietly but confidently. "Now, leave. Leave now."

The man hesitated, then seemed to obey. By then, Pam had crossed the living room and opened the main door.

"No, you come inside," the man said, changing his mind.

"No, you go outside," Pam demanded, though calmly. Then she added: "If you're going to kill me, then kill me. But under no circumstances will you touch me."

"I'm not a bad person," said the man.

"Leave!" Pam said again.

"Let me out through the gate," the man demanded.

"No, you leave the way you came," Pam answered. But the man would have none of it. Finally, exasperated, Pam told the man: "Stand against the fence. Stay there." And she went to get the keys from her desk in the sala.

Pam walked the unwanted guest toward the gate, all the time wary of any sudden moves. There were none. But as the man was halfway through the gate, he vacillated again. He wanted to come back in!

Pam pushed against the gate door, leaning into it with her full weight. "Unsa man? Kidnapon ko nimo?" she screamed.

"Dili! dili!" the man said, and finally left.

With the man gone, Pam rushed back into the house. She phoned for help from friends. Within minutes they came, and only then did the full impact of the night's ordeal hit Pam. Gone was her digital camera, a CD player, some cash, and some cards. But she was alive. That was enough.

It was a typical break-in robbery with a mercifully atypical end. Considering the frequency with which this crime happens in Dumaguete, there are important lessons to be learned: Quietly for help at the sign of suspicious persons who may be scouting the area. If confronted, keep composed. Avoid physical engagement. Do not corner the robber. Getting out of the house should be the number one priority. Speak to the robber calmly, firmly, and confidently. Pray.

Most of all: live.