Safety is our responsibility

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 25, 2007

In small towns we often take for granted the community that often swathes us with protection.

Every one knows everyone else, therefore there’s no need to worry about who is knocking at our door or who is taking a shortcut through our lawns.

The mentality is, “Bad things don’t happen around here.”

In some ways it blinds us to how dangerous the world can be.

If a heinous crime happens in our community then an outsider had to be the culprit or a drifter passing through.

I grew up in a small town where every aspect above applied.

Maybe it came from my own experience of growing up in a female dominated house, but I’ve always been cautious of my surroundings.

I was always taught that no one was immune from bad things happening to them—even in small towns.

And that realization never became more real than when a crime hit close to home.

A few years ago, a friend of mine from childhood was excited to be striking out on her own. She had recently landed a job one of the local post offices near my old hometown in upstate New York, ironically at the same post office my aunt worked at.

The particular job position my friend held allowed her to save up enough money within a year to buy a car and move out of her mother’s house into an apartment.

She was enjoying her new found independence and was getting to know the people around her apartment complex, even the maintenance man who had helped her move in.

While sleeping one night, a noise at my friend’s door woke her up. As she walked to the door, she realized someone was trying to break into her apartment.

Before she could even try to stop the person or even pick up the phone, he had the door open.

It was the maintenance man and he was wielding a knife.

He placed the knife at her throat and told her to get the keys to her car and her purse. He forced her into her vehicle and made her drive. My friend was too afraid to make sudden moves or try to get away.

The burglar turned kidnapper directed her to drive as he rifled through her wallet taking her cash.

She droved with the knife pointed at her until they arrived at downtown Rochester. He then told her to pull over while he proceeded to get out of the car and went into a nearby house.

Once he closed the door, she took off to the nearest police station.

When I heard about my friend’s ordeal, I was glad to hear she had escaped unscathed.

But then a sudden wave of paranoia washed over me. For a few days after hearing her story, I could not sleep.

My worries belonged to the fact law enforcement had not found the suspect in my friend’s case, but also to the “what ifs.”

Every night I was scared of someone breaking into my home. Each noise I heard was correlated with a criminal that was lurking outside.

Finally, I was able to overcome my fear with a little bit of commonsense and the fact that my body was shutting down with the lack of sleep.

I used my friend’s experience as a prime example on top of what I had already been taught about looking out for your own safety.

Every person I met on my way home from working late on my university’s newspaper got a suspicious eye.

And still to this day if you’re a hitchhiker, sorry buddy, I’m not pulling over. If you knock saying you’re having car trouble, I’ll happily call a tow truck for you on the other side of my locked door.

We often think that the police will be there when danger comes knocking, but it’s not always that simple. Law enforcement can not be everywhere all the time. Safety is our own responsibility.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a staff writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.