The Cornered Cat
Lessons from the Headlines: Abduction Attempt

In Florida a few days ago, a young teenager was shopping at a dollar store with her mom when this happened.

 

 

That’s an abduction attempt. Broad daylight, as far as I can tell. Not an empty back alleyway in the middle of the night. Just inside a dollar store in Florida, with other people around.

Stranger tries to grab a 13 year old and drag her out of the store. The girl’s mom reacts quickly and fights back, eventually throwing her own body on top of her daughter to thwart the assailant, who fled for the exit.

The fleeing criminal was stopped by a good guy with a gun. An off duty cop happened to be pulling up outside the store. He blocked the assailant’s car in the parking lot and held the assailant at gun point until law enforcement arrived to arrest the guy and take him into custody.

Several people have asked me what I thought the mother “should have” done. My answer: exactly what she did! She used the tools and skills she had available to her, without any hesitation at all. Her immediate and full commitment to action almost certainly saved her daughter’s life.

Legal questions

Others have asked a different question: if one of us were in the same situation, would it be legal to shoot the attacker? Is it legal to shoot an assailant who’s trying to kidnap your child, and who appears to be succeeding? Let’s look at that.

In this case, I think we could easily articulate ability, opportunity, jeopardy — which are three elements that must be present for a use of deadly force to be legally justified throughout the United States. (Various courts use different words to approach the same concepts; however, the concepts themselves are a constant.)

Quick overview:

1 – ABILITY. Ability answers the question, “Does the attacker have the power to kill or cripple the person he/she is attacking?” In this case, the answer would be a definite *YES*, because an adult male has the power to kill or cripple a young teenage girl, whether or not he has a weapon in his hand. He could (and does) easily overpower her.

2 – OPPORTUNITY. Opportunity answers the question, “Do the circumstances allow the attacker to use his/her ability against the intended victim?” In this case, again, that’s a definite *YES,* because he is physically close enough to overpower her and has already done so. As he drags her out of the store, she has no way to save herself from what’s happening to her.

3 – JEOPARDY. Jeopardy answers the question, “Would a reasonable person look at the complete situation and conclude that the attacker intended to use his/her ability and take the opportunity to kill or cripple the person being attacked?” Again, that’s a *YES,* because nobody in their right mind can watch this video without having chills run up and down their spine for what was clearly about to happen. Anyone think he was just grabbing the girl so he could take her to an ice cream store and make her happy?

At this point, it’s likely that some folks reading this are thinking, “Wait… those are the answers from the 13-year-old girl’s perspective. But would the mom (or other bystanders) be legally¬† justified in shooting the assailant?”

That’s almost certainly a *YES*, too. That’s because the person being attacked would easily be justified in using deadly force to save her own life, which means in most (not all) US jurisdictions, every bystander who saw what was happening would -also- be justified in using deadly force to save the little girl’s life. There are potential nuances we could discuss, but I can’t see any of those nuances making a problem here.

Practical questions

Note that none of this talks about the physical difficulty of accessing your gun and using it while you are on the ground, fighting with an assailant and trying hard to hang onto your child at the same time.

  • If you carry in your purse: would you be able to get your gun out of your purse in this situation? Probably not. Especially not if you make a habit of setting it in the cart as you shop. Even if you had the purse attached to your body, that’s a very complex situation and it’s very likely everything would be too tangled for accessing the gun.
  • If you carry on-body: would you be able to get your gun out of the holster during this violent and chaotic situation? Maybe not. Especially if you prefer to carry in a soft, squishy holster under several layers of clothes, or if you use one that has a complex retention strap.

This is one reason I strongly recommend learning to draw the gun under the watchful eye of a good instructor. More than that, I also recommend taking the kind of classes where you can learn how to draw the gun when everything isn’t calm and squared away in advance. That’s also why I offer the Against the Odds class, where people can learn to get to their guns under adverse conditions, and begin to understand different ways they can protect themselves when they aren’t standing calmly 7 yards away from a target that doesn’t move.

Regardless of how you carry: have you practiced any kind of close quarters engagement, either with empty hands or with dummy guns? Even though there are many opportunities we can spot on the video where one of us might have been able to shoot if we were the mom in this situation, seeing those opportunities from the outside is a different thing than feeling or seeing them from the inside.

Not only that, but it wouldn’t be an easy shot even though it’s so close that we’re tempted to think marksmanship wouldn’t be an issue. Because everything happens so fast and everyone is moving so much, there’s a strong possibility that a gunshot would hit either the daughter or one of the other customers.

Best bet would probably be to jam the gun into the assailant for a contact shot, though even with that there’s still a significant danger of the round going through the assailant to hit the daughter or someone else. So you’d still need to be very aware of your angles and everything else. And many people who haven’t practiced this type of skill will unintentionally create a malfunction by shoving the gun too aggressively into the assailant. (This can knock the slide out of battery and stop the gun from firing.) It’s doable, but again, it’s a skill that must be taught and practiced.

Taken away and used against you? That’s one of my least-favorite phrases, but I think here it could be a valid concern. Would you, with the skills you have right now, really be able to hold onto your gun in this situation if you couldn’t shoot immediately, while being in close contact with a determined assailant? What have you done to acquire or test those skills?

Bottom line

The mom in this case did the right thing and saved her daughter’s life with the tools she had — her own empty hands.

The assailant was stopped and eventually arrested because a bystander had a gun and was willing to act in defense of others.

We can use incidents like these that are caught on video,¬†not to second-guess the people who were there, but to prepare our own minds to do what it takes to protect ourselves and the people we love. As always, there are many lessons we can learn from incidents that happen to others — once we know how to watch a crime video.

Stay safe.

4 Responses to Lessons from the Headlines: Abduction Attempt

  1. mgutterres says:

    Excellent analysis and summary. Thank you so much.

  2. larryarnold says:

    Great article, and spot on.

    Also, answer #34,632 to “Why do you need to carry a gun to the grocery store?” (Etc.)

  3. divemedic says:

    You left out an important point in Florida law. Florida law also allows the use of deadly force to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. (776.012)

    Since the child is being taken, the act is certainly imminent. The question here is if kidnapping is a forcible felony. That is answered by 776.08, which defines a forcible felony as:

    treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; carjacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.

    So there you have it- kidnapping is a forcible felony, and as long as you reasonably believe that deadly force is needed to prevent the kidnapping, deadly force is lawful.

  4. Fred says:

    Looking at the video I’m not sure I would have even drawn my weapon. Tight space, everyone moving, might not have a shot. His hands are empty so, the single most important thing in this case is time. It is absolutely imperative that the child remain in the store. I would have no idea of the outside environment, accomplice, running vehicle, nothing. The child MUST stay in the store know matter what. Once he is outside with the child the advantage changes drastically away from the child’s defender(s). The mother did the right thing even if she was armed IMHO. And maybe you do get stabbed or shot but what is he going to do once he gets the little girl? Seconds count, she can not leave the store.

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