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The Journal Gazette

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Sunday, October 01, 2017 1:00 am

Home invasions' victims scarred

2 survivors recall violence by their intruders

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Tips

Should you fight back when someone invades your home and attacks you? That depends, according to security experts.

“You make as much noise as you can, and you fight to the death,” says Michael Joyner, public information officer for the Fort Wayne Police Department. But when they demand cash or whatever else they want, cooperate.

Here are steps you can take to make yourself safer.

1) Install door locks with three-inch screws in the lock and door hinges. Chain latches are ineffective.

2) Fortify rear doors, sliding glass doors and garage doors.

3) Use a wide-angle peephole and never open your door to strangers.

4) Install an audible alarm system. Set alarms for perimeter doors and window sensors. Many alarm panels have an emergency panic button that dials 911.

5) Use an alarm company lawn and window signs.

6) Set your cellphone to dial 911.

7) Have an escape plan and escape even if other family members are in the house. You can seek help quickly.

8) Train children to dial 911 or hit the panic button on an alarm.

9) Keep a cool head and always think about the next step or an escape.

10) Don't hit an attacker unless you are confident you can do damage and escape quickly. Hit the attacker in the nose, eyes or throat.

11) Plant prickly bushes like rose or holly outside your windows.

12) Install motion-detecting sensor lights on the exterior of your home.

13) Set up a plan with neighbors.

14) Never leave an outside car unlocked. Burglars can find the garage door opener and use it.

What doesn't work

1) Be selective about when you scream. If you think neighbors will hear you and call police, scream. If not, screaming may be used against you.

2) Pepper spray or a gun, unless you have easy access. A chemical fire extinguisher might be easier and more effective.

3) Don't fake illness. Attackers don't care about you.

4) Don't pull a weapon on an armed invader who has you covered with a handgun unless it's your only chance.

5) Don't agree to go with an invader to an ATM machine or other location.

6) Don't agree to be tied-up, handcuffed or placed in the trunk of a car.

7) Don't follow an intruder once the intruder leaves your home.

Sources: Fort Wayne Police Department

Chris E. McGoey, home invasion security expert whose advice can be found on www.crimedoctor.com

Woman's World, “Burglar Proof Your Home,” Sept. 4, 2017

Lori Bartell Gonzales woke up to a gun stuck in her face in the early morning hours of Sept. 4, 2016.

“Where's the Xbox? Where's the Xbox?” her intruders yelled as Gonzales struggled to get to her senses.

When she told them she didn't have an Xbox, the encounter turned more violent.

“That's when he hit me in the face,” said Gonzales, who'd been a widow for a year when the home invasion occurred. She still has a small scar around her lip from when she was pistol whipped.

Gonzales started to scream, and every time she did, the robber hit her in the head with his gun and threatened to kill her if she didn't stop.

In another bedroom of the mobile home, the 15-year-old grandson she had adopted with her late husband, Rico Gonzales, lay with pillows covering his face, immobile after the gun-wielding robbers came into his room first looking for the Xbox.

Gonzales was the victim of one of 18 Allen County home invasions last year, according to the Fort Wayne Police Department. Through Sept. 24, the county has had 10 this year. In 2015, there were 28, matching a record previously reached in 2012. 

Home invasions occur when someone is present when a house is burglarized. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 3.7 million burglaries occurred each year from 2003 to 2007. In about 1 million of those burglaries, a household member was present. In more than 266,000, a household member or members became victims of violent crimes.

Simple assault was the most common form of violence, the report said. Three percent of home invasions resulted in rape, according to the statistics. In 65 percent of the violent burglaries, the offenders were known to their victims.  

Gonzales, 54, believes there were three involved in her home invasion, one who knew the truth about her grandson. She had always introduced the teenager as her son but confided in one neighbor woman at Countryside Village mobile home park about his adoption.

When one of the gunmen asked her : “Do you want me to kill your grandson?” Gonzales was stunned. She believed the woman's son, an acquaintance of her grandson, might have been involved in the crime, she said. 

That robber has yet to be caught, police told her. The other two, charged with a string of home invasions in 2016, are jailed but were not charged in her home invasion.

Not only did the robbers get the Xbox Gonzales was storing under her bed after taking it from her grandson, but they cleaned her out of cash, jewelry, televisions, useless remote controls and a gun in her safe, where they also found Gonzales and her grandson's passports.

“You got passports,” one of the robbers said. “You gotta have money if you have passports.”

She told him they were obtained for a destination wedding. 

The terror of living through a home invasion that turns violent has a lasting effect on its victims.

Little more than a year later, Gonzales occasionally relies on sleep medicine, has moved to another trailer park a Fort Wayne Police Department detective assigned to her case recommended, and at night barricades herself into her room with her gun by her side.

“Studies have shown that these types of events have both short- and long-term physical and mental health consequences. It is very important to listen to your body and mind and ask for help when you need it, make sure that your doctor knows that you have been through a crisis like this, and if anything at the time is bothering you,” Dr, Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, wrote in an email response. 

The trauma of a violent home invasion has just begun to take effect on an 80-year-old woman who was fit enough to fight back when her attackers tried to tie up her legs with towel strips and held her down with pillows over her face around 3 a.m. on Aug. 21.

She started out strong but now says she is “not in a good place.” She asked that her name not be used.

Her home on Fox Chase Run sits in a wooded area with other well-tended homes cared for by outside landscapers. Other help, like home health aides, often comes to the area, she said. Detectives who interviewed the woman after her attack believe she was targeted. 

The invaders entered her home after they cut a screen on an open window, open because she likes the cool summer air at night, she said.

Just as in Gonzales' case, her attackers were after money, jewelry and cellphones and eventually took the keys to her car, even though they dropped the car off about a mile away.

Unlike Gonzales' attackers, they talked very little. What was scary, the woman said, was the lookout who stood by her as she lay on the couch while the other two roamed the house, turning lights on and off.

At first she played possum, she said, but she responded when the tallest one stood over her and asked her where to find money and other things. Their violent attack ended as abruptly as it began. While one tried to tie up her legs, the other two punched her face and tried to smother her with pillows. She believed her life was over.

Once she sensed they were gone, the woman went to her landline and called police.

Gonzales did the same. 

Her grandson couldn't believe they were gone. Standing over him, Gonzales called his name and he didn't respond. She was terrified he'd been smothered.

It was only after she said, “I think they're gone,” that he threw off the pillows from his face, jumped up and hugged her. 

The next day, Gonzales' nephew installed outside cameras that her grandson now monitors at night from an inside screen. 

The woman on Fox Chase is careful to set her alarm, which she did not do the morning of the attack.

McMahan says victims of these home invasions need to take care of themselves.

“Symptoms can include simple things like sleep issues and increased anxiety to a long-term impact on your blood pressure,” McMahan wrote. “Don't be tough, be smart. Let the professionals know what you are experiencing so that you can minimize the negative impact on your life, purpose and relationships.” 

jduffy@jg.net