In the hours and days following the violent murder of someone important, we can be so preoccupied with grief, fatigue, and distractions that it’s easy to forget our own safety. It’s just not where our focus is.
I recall being consumed with detectives, answering the phone, dodging the media, planning a funeral, preparing for out-of-town family (coming to the service), managing work deadlines, and having periodic meltdowns in the first days following my husband’s homicide. I felt like I was drowning. Safety wasn’t on my mind. It should’ve been.
Three possible scenarios.
Supporters of the murderer may show up. Even if the suspect is in custody, it doesn’t mean their accomplices are. Perhaps they think you witnessed something incriminating or found evidence that you will hand over to law enforcement. Or they assume you’ll come after them out of revenge. Maybe they fear being in a lineup. Perceptions can be wrong. But that doesn’t make them less deadly.
Johnnie D. killed Tony R. in his own garage in Northern Georgia in 1986. As Johnnie glanced up, he noticed an upstairs curtain move and assumed (correctly) that he’d been observed. Hearing police sirens he fled. But 17 hours later he returned to silence the witness.
The perpetrators extracted important information from your loved one before they perished. Perhaps they learned of a valuable gun or coin collection or the combination to the safe.
Biggie J. tied up his intended victim, Rick S. to a tree on the property of a long-abandoned mill in rural Upstate New York on a foggy summer night. It was late 2017. Biggie broke Rick’s knee with a pipe found nearby. He then demanded to know where Rick kept his large supply of “Sweet Tarts” (synthetic fentanyl). At some point, Rick disclosed that his multi-colored stash was hidden above the garage access door at his aunt’s house. That put an end to Ricky’s value and his life. Biggie then came for the drugs. Fortunately, Rick’s aunt was across the street at the time.
Jealousy is a powerful and common motive for violence. A killer can take the life of your loved one due to revenge when they learn of the infidelity of their partner. So why come for you? To even the score.
Mickey B., a 29-year-old father, had a 4-month affair with Shandra T., his coworker, during the summer of 2016 outside Auburn, Kansas. Shandra’s husband, Scott, discovered her infidelity. At work, Scott was overheard on the phone with Shandra vowing to “put an end to her cheating.” It didn’t take him long to find them together. Scott ran Shandra’s lover Mickey off the road into a deep ravine, killing him instantly. But he wasn’t finished. Scott then turned back and came for Mickey’s wife as payback.
These and other situations are thankfully rare but do happen. Nonetheless, they serve as an important reminder to stay alert and take preventative measures in the immediate hours and days following a violent crime and again while the trial is underway.
If you’re a friend of someone who has just received a death notification, you’re one step removed. That makes you in a better position to be thinking more clearly and able to attend to matters of safety.
What Professionals Recommend
Avoid being alone while driving or at home.
When possible ask friends to run errands for you.
Make sure all cars, windows, and doors are secure.
Close drapes, and blinds at night.
Turn on yard lights at dusk and dim inside lights.
If something threatening or even suspicious occurs document, document, document.
Keep space heaters, fans, music, or television noise low so outside disturbances can be heard.
If you have a trusted neighbor, have them keep an eye out as well.
Supervise children, pets, and other dependents.
Be in the loop on the investigation and developments that require additional safety precautions. Follow those precautions.
Keep phones charged and chargers accessible.
Know your jurisdiction’s laws for the use of deadly force. Are you in a “stand-your-ground” jurisdiction or a “duty to retreat?”
Err on the side of caution. Call 911 in the United States, 000 in Australia, or 999 in the United Kingdom if you feel you are in danger.
Remember that these same issues could arise during the investigation or later if called to testify at trial.
While these threats do not exist in every situation, it never hurts to be aware and know what support is available. Victim advocates should be kept in the loop, as well as trusted neighbors, and law enforcement. Some jurisdictions offer victim-witness assistance to help with safety concerns throughout the criminal justice process.
No one should be weighed down by useless worry. That’s especially true at this already difficult time. But it just makes sense to prepare for the worst and hope it’s never needed.
Don’t think about safety just in hindsight.