What’s it like to be held at gunpoint?

Michelle Victor, 33, experienced the unthinkable. She was stopped by a man as she left her girlfriend’s apartment, a gun pointing at her face. This is her account of what happened, her reaction to it and her emotional state today.

Michelle Victor
Michelle Victor

Read an Interview: You had seen the guy several times before. Was he stalking you?

Michelle Victor: The first time I ever saw the guy who would ultimately hold me at gunpoint, I was on a run in the neighborhood on a Sunday morning. He said hi to me and instinctively I said hi back, although something about him seemed strange. Upon my return to my girlfriend’s house I mentioned running into a weird guy down the street, but we didn’t think much more than that at the time. There was nothing particularly suspicious about him other than a strange gut feeling.

Over the course of the next five months, I saw the man several times and even saw him once when I was with my girlfriend. He would always says hi to me. I assumed he lived in the neighborhood and out of an attempt to be polite I always said hi back. The day he held me at gunpoint, he said hi and I didn’t feel endangered.

Looking back, I’m fairly certain he was stalking me and had seen me more often than I actually saw him. He seemed to have been grooming me to be his victim. Being held at gunpoint was scary, but the idea of someone stalking my daily habits for months seems much more frightening now.

RAI: So when he pulled the gun, what was the first thought that ran through your mind?

MV: The whole ordeal was about three minutes long and it feels like I had a lot of first thoughts as the incident seems to be broken up in my memory as three distinct segments: when I first saw the man, when he pulled the gun on me and when he drove away.

My first thought that ran through my mind when I first saw him was: “It’s almost 68 degrees out already. That’s weird, this man is wearing a snowboarding jacket and a hood.”

My first thought that ran through my mind when he pulled the gun: “Man, this is going to hurt.”

My first thought that ran through my mind when he drove away: “What do I do now?”

“Being held at gunpoint was scary, but the idea of someone stalking my daily habits for months seems much more frightening.”

RAI: No thoughts of danger other than “this is going to hurt”?

MV: Strangely, all my thoughts were very calm. In fact, I was very calm throughout the entire situation given a gun was drawn on me. I was very much confused throughout the incident more than anything, but my thoughts were all logical, rational and calm.

I find this interesting because throughout my life I have been known to be make decisions based on emotions rather than logic.

RAI: How did your body react?

MV: When he pulled the gun, I froze and really had almost no reaction at all other than staring at the barrel of the gun in sheer confusion. When he moved aggressively towards me and placed the barrel of the gun about six inches from my head, I coward down with my hands covering my head in a somewhat protective gesture. When he drove away, my mind began to panic, but my brain was still logical and trying to keep me as safe as possible.

My nervous system didn’t really react at all, until after the police left. My legs felt like they could no longer support me, as I collapsed on my girlfriend’s floor, shaking, crying and in a full blown panic attack.

Even though it lasted only minutes, it felt so fast. I know a lot of people say traumatic events happen in slow motion for them, but for me, everything was in fast forward. The only thing I really ended up focusing on was the gun and making sure it never left my sight. I remember thinking that I did not want to be shot in the back, so I kept my body directly in front of his, until he ran away. I never took my eyes off the gun.

My brain however, kept focusing on how much it will hurt me if I’m shot. I had that repeated thought throughout the incident. I guess that was my mind’s way of bracing myself for what felt like the inevitable. Thankfully, I was not actually shot and do not know how much a gunshot hurts.

"When I first saw the man, I had just closed the front door to the house. In the picture it is the door on the left, facing the neighbor’s house. The man was 'walking by' on the sidewalk closer to the front door, right where the sidewalk intersects with the walk way. When he first pulled the gun on me I had just walked between the two cars right next to the electrical pole. Throughout the few minutes we shuffled everywhere between the cars, the light pole, the street and the sidewalk. When it finally ended I was standing on the sidewalk close to the light pole. I then ran to my girlfriend’s window which is adjacent to the tree on the side of the house."
“When I first saw the man, I had just closed the front door to the house. In the picture it is the door on the left, facing the neighbor’s house. The man was ‘walking by’ on the sidewalk closer to the front door, right where the sidewalk intersects with the walk way. When he first pulled the gun on me I had just walked between the two cars right next to the electrical pole. Throughout the few minutes we shuffled everywhere between the cars, the light pole, the street and the sidewalk. When it finally ended I was standing on the sidewalk close to the light pole. I then ran to my girlfriend’s window which is adjacent to the tree on the side of the house.” – Michelle Victor

RAI: Did you do anything irrational?

MV: I screamed when he moved towards me with the gun drawn. In the moment, I remember thinking screaming was irrational, especially because right after I screamed, with the gun six inches from my head, he told me not to scream. Now, I recognize screaming woke the neighbors and that’s what ultimately saved me.

RAI: So a neighbor intervened. Tell me what happened.

MV: I am forever grateful for the kindness of strangers. Two different neighbors intervened. When I screamed, a man started running down the street towards me. The suspect took the gun off me and aimed it at him and told him not to move or he would shoot me. The man abruptly stopped, then the suspect put the gun at my chest and told the neighbor not to move or he would shoot. I became a hostage to the good samaritan.

Right then, another neighbor opened her door and yelled that she was calling 911. My heart nearly fell out of my chest with relief knowing that no matter what happened next, help was coming for me. Because that neighbor was behind the suspect, he swiveled around with the gun to find out who yelled, but to no avail and put the gun back on me.

RAI: Then what happened? When did he leave, and did he steal anything?

MV: After the man turned back to me, he moved toward me and I offered him my overnight bag, mostly to put space between us. He took my bag and asked me where my laptop was. I told him I didn’t have a laptop on me, but the bag had my camera, wallet and phone in there. He ran past me and drove away in a white van.

I was left standing there holding nothing but a car key and watching him drive away.

RAI: Was this simply a robbery, or what did he actually want?

MV: To be honest, I have no idea what he actually wanted. The whole incident seems like it turned into a robbery, although that doesn’t feel like the intent. I try not to speculate why he actually was stalking me or what he actually wanted because I will never truly know. Speculation about what could have happened gives me anxiety.

“He moved aggressively towards me and placed the barrel of the gun about six inches from my head.”

RAI: Why did he let you go?

MV: I think he let me go because there were witnesses and one who said she was calling for the police. I think he felt kind of stuck, grabbed my belongings and ran.

RAI: Your girlfriend… What happened when you told her? What did you say to her and how did she react?

MV: Since this all happened approximately 20 feet from my girlfriend’s open bedroom window, I was shocked that she didn’t wake up from my scream. I have no idea how she did not, but she didn’t and I’m incredibly grateful. She would have ran out her front door and been in the direct line of the gun.

After the suspect drove away I had no idea what to do. I didn’t know if I should run to my car – he didn’t take my keys – or if I should run to my girlfriend’s side window to wake her. At the time, I remember being terrified because I had no idea where the suspect was. I saw him drive away, but I didn’t really know where he went. In my mind, I thought he would come back for me. I didn’t want to place her in any danger, but I decided to run to my girlfriend’s window anyways, since it was considerably closer to me than the car.

I banged on her side fence to wake her and told her to come to the front door. The seven seconds it took her to get from her room to the door felt like an eternity. When she answered the door, I was in a full blown panic. I was hyperventilating and she couldn’t calm me down enough to understand what I was saying. I recall those moments as being completely coherent and I was so confused how she didn’t understand what I was saying.

She finally got me to take a breath and I blurted out, “I got robbed at gunpoint, call 911.” And she did.

She handed me the phone and 911 stayed on the line with me until the police arrived. She didn’t actually hear the full story until I told the police officer and she was visibly upset and even more upset when I described the suspect since she remembered us seeing him before in the neighborhood.

I read a range of emotions on her face as I told the officer. She was concerned, sad, angry, nervous, scared, frustrated.

“I collapsed on my girlfriend’s floor, shaking, crying and in a full blown panic attack.”

RAI: When and where did all this take place?

MV: This took place on July 20, 2015 in the Piedmont District of Oakland, California, USA.

RAI: Are you still scarred by it today?

MV: I’m still very much traumatized by this event. Since the event though, my girlfriend and I moved away from there, but that morning still haunts me. Certain situations or people remind me of the feeling I got that morning or remind me of the suspect and that triggers a panic attack or an emotional outburst, which can happen at any moment. I don’t know how long I will be scared to be out at dark or be afraid to be alone, but I am guessing it can’t be forever. I’m seeing a trauma specialist to help me work through these moments and issues.

Thank you Michelle for sharing your story!

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