The story is an amazing one and I encourage you to read it. But the lessons are so vast I couldn't help but reiterate them in this blog post. I was so inspired to learn all I could from her story I sought out further information and news reports that led me to her contact information. Angela agreed to talk to me and I had an hour and a half long phone conversation regarding the incident, her mindset, self defense and the like. She is an amazing woman and I hope one day to shake her hand and tell her in person how much I admire her spirit.
I am, in no way, condemning any of Angela's actions. She knows this and I want you to know it, too. She did what she could and she survived. She also uses her experience to empower others. She is a strong woman! But that doesn't mean we can't learn more from her experience to help prepare ourselves.
As I read her story and spoke with her the lessons kept rearing their heads and I found myself grouping them into categories. Though the incident itself was fluid it was not hard at all to breakdown into what could be considered the categories of any self defense situation.
Mindset is a huge bite to chew in a short blog post. A fighting mindset encompasses a variety of things including the awareness that bad things happen and can happen to you, the seeking of defensive training, the willingness to use that training in the time of need against your fellow man and the fortitude to continue training, preparing even through the lull of everyday life and variations therein.
When it comes to self defense most people fall into one of a few categories:
Unaware and unprepared.
Aware and unprepared.
Aware and marginally prepared.
Aware and prepared.
The problem with being aware and marginally prepared is that a lot of people don't know how much they don't know. They will take a self defense class, carry a defensive tool and believe themselves prepared. While they are better prepared than someone who has neither of those things there may be things lacking from their training. Most people will never need the defensive training they take and many are okay with that. Taking additional training becomes a balance between risk, reward, finances and time. But in the time of need the training they are lacking can become evident.
When I spoke to Angela on the phone I asked her about the details of the self defense class she took and why she took it. She kind of laughed. It was a high school class that spanned over the course of a semester and she thought it would be an easy A. She didn't take any further self defense classes after high school but was aware that bad things happened. It wasn't something she worried about but she knew it could happen.
That self defense class, though taken casually, had a huge impact on Angela's mindset. She said had she been attacked as a teen she wasn't sure she would have the fortitude to fight back but after graduating from high school (and subsequently that self defense class) she developed stronger boundaries and was more sure of herself. She had more confidence and more will to stand up for herself.
|The inside of Angela's car.|
Even with that fighting mindset she was taken by surprise. Rushing from work to school she was emailing her boyfriend when she walked into the parking garage. She threw her bags in her car and was about to get in herself when she felt something at her neck. Thinking it was a joke she reached up and grabbed at the item and cut her hand on the knife. At that moment she knew it was no joke and immediately began to kick and scream and fight. Her attacker then stabbed her in the abdomen.
Jeff Cooper's color codes of awareness are as follows:
White: Unaware and unprepared.
Yellow: Aware and alert for potential danger.
Orange: Alerted to a specific, potential threat.
Red: Threat identified.
Black or Triggers: A fight is imminent unless circumstances change.
No matter what self defense blog you read or website you go on you will be bombarded with the reminder to live your life in condition yellow. To be alert and aware and to keep your head on a swivel. People are so passionate about condition yellow that I've even seen bracelets marketed to women with beads to remind them to be in condition yellow.
It's said that one can operate in condition yellow as long as he or she is conscious. I believe that to be more of a goal than an actual accomplishment. I don't care how aware you think you are, if you are honest with yourself you will admit that you slip into condition white from time to time. Whether it's an unexpected phone call, trying to remember when your kids next pediatrician appointment is or looking at the legs of the hot chick who just walked by you will occasionally find yourself slipping into condition white. Maybe you've gotten so comfortable in your routine that you live in condition white.
I will not criticize anyone who gets taken by surprise in an attack. Angela shared with me that she was sent a note telling her that if she hadn't been on her phone she probably wouldn't have gotten attacked. First, that couldn't be known. And that kind of blame shifting irritates me to no end. Checking your email does not mean you deserve a knife in your belly. Yes, you should be aware and alert but if you aren't and are caught by surprise that does not make you culpable.
That being said, of course one should try to remain aware or in that condition yellow. Look up and around. Be aware of who is near you and what is going on. And don't be in denial.
Angela had a brief moment of denial that what was happening was real.
A few weeks ago, Greg Ellifritz posted an article by Marc MacYoung titled Best Way to Get Attacked. One of the points was "Don't Deny It's Happening."
Violence is a rarity. Many people can go their entire lives without ever having been involved in a physical fight. ...She was initially surprised by the attack but she soon recognized it for what it was and then adjusted accordingly. She set her boundaries by determining she was not going to get into a car with him and she acted on the training she had received. She had a mindset to fight. And fight she did.
People from lifestyles where violence is common immediately recognize when it is happening and react accordingly. All other priorities fall away.
Whereas people for whom violence 'doesn't happen' or they haven't been in a physical conflict since they were kids, there is huge denial factor.
There are no details of the pre-attack in the article posted. When I spoke to Angela and asked her if she was aware of her attacker before the knife she said that she may or may not have seen him but if she did he did not register as a threat and she doesn't remember alerting to him.
Her first real indication that there was any threat was him putting the knife to her throat.
Because she did not see him we have no knowledge of pre-fight indicators in her case.
We don't know how he approached her or what his demeanor was like. We know that a man with a knife can often cover a quite a bit of space before an average individual with a gun can draw and fire and so we can't get too high and mighty about him being able to close distance and get a knife to her throat. However, we can't help but wonder what went on between her entering that parking garage and a knife being pressed to her throat.
If she had seen him approaching could she have been made aware an attack was imminent through pre-fight indicators? Would he have asked a question? Would her guard have been down because he was dressed nicely and it was the middle of the day? Would she have gotten a gut feeling that something was off? Would she have seen something in his hand? Perhaps his hands would have been hidden? What, if any, pre-fight indicators would he have been displaying?
Of course we can only speculate in this case because we don't know but we can be aware that pre-fight indicators exist and we should be aware of them. We should listen to our gut and watch for hands and weapons and not let our guard down for a nice suit.
Again, this isn't to shift blame onto Angela, but to learn from her experience.
There are not as many resources on pre-fight or pre-attack indicators as you'd think. Because I don't have a lot of experience with pre-fight/attack indicators, I did some searching and this is one article I found: Police One: Pre Attack Indicators: Conscious Recognition of Telegraphed Cues
I plan to do more research into pre-fight/attack indicators in the future.
Angela's attacker put a knife to her throat and said, "We're going for a ride."
|The wound to Angela's hand.|
It did not, however, mean that she was going to get out unscathed.
I'd like to point out that many people have different opinions on what it means to be victorious or to win in self defense. Some think that you only win if you walk away unscathed with a dead bad guy at your feet. I believe that kind of mindset sets one up for failure--if not personally than legally.
I prefer to follow the examples of Rory Miller who said,
"It is better to avoid than to run; better to run than to de-escalate; better to de-escalate than to fight; better to fight than to die. The very essence of self-defense is a thin list of things that might get you out alive when you are already screwed."Self defense is a lose/lose situation. Even if you win, you've lost. You have been attacked or victimized in some way. All of your attempts at avoidance, evasion and deescalation have failed. You've already lost your battle to some level and now the goal is to lose less and survive. Maybe you'll lose your wallet, some blood or a little pride. Accept that loss so that you do not get hung up on it.
People who get hung up on that loss die over their car or the twenty dollars in their wallets or their pride over something someone said about their girlfriend or mother. Maybe they die cowering in the back of a van because they were afraid they'd get hurt if they fought and it was better to just "go along" with it than possibly lose a little in a hand-to-hand fight. Yes, there may be a time to feign compliance but those are decisions you have to make in the moment. Don't get hung up on what you might lose lest you lose your life.
And, no, that doesn't mean you should think getting hurt or losing is no big deal. I have often heard people say, "Expect to get cut" (or hurt) in a fight. Yes, have a realistic viewpoint of what a fight for your life might be but don't accept it to the point where you don't work to defend against it or think it no big thing. Acknowledge that it can happen, defend against it as best you can, but don't stop fighting because you weren't able to prevent it.
Angela reached up and grabbed the knife at her throat and immediately cut her thumb. She could have defeated herself and given up at that moment and thought, "I'm cut. It's over. I lost." She didn't. She accepted that she lost a little but was determined to accept that loss in favor of saving her own life.
The article says, "she stomped his feet, clawed at his face, bit his hand and jabbed at his crotch, kicking and screaming."
In the end she gained her life and her attacker walked away with the words, "You're lucky you're a fighter!"
What an amazing testament to her, her mindset and her effort! She didn't kill him. She didn't beat him. She did not overpower him and keep him from hurting her. While she inflicted at least some injuries to him there is no indication that they were anything severe or life-threatening. But she kept him from taking her and from killing her. She lost the battle but won the war for her life! That is self defense at its finest!
I asked her if at any time she felt that compliance was the better option. She said no. She told me that despite the injury her actions ultimately led to his capture and conviction and stopped him from attacking anyone else. Yes, she was injured but she stopped him and therefore it was worth it.
The Defensive Weapon
It bears mentioning that Angela had a self defense tool. She had pepper spray. She said that it was in the zipper pouch in her purse and she tried to get to it during the fight.
A self defense tool is only as good as your access to it and its state of readiness. If we know this we don't always practice it. Sometimes we think just having the tool means we will be able to use it in a time of need. We are often unaware that getting to a defensive tool can sometimes be the hardest part of a fight.
I don't care how many times you've practiced grabbing that little canister of spray out of your purse while you are comfortably standing in your living room or how many times you practiced getting that gun out of your bag or racking a round into an empty chamber.
When you're rolling around with a knife buried in your belly the situation changes quite a bit. The ability to use your self defense tool will directly relate to how accessible it is (i.e. on your body in an accessible location) and its state of readiness (loaded and ready to fire). If you cannot, for whatever reason (attire, personal preference, vocation, local legalities) have a weapon accessible and ready than you must accept the fact that you may not be able to use it and must plan accordingly.
I don't know how long she fought to get into her bag for her pepper spray. The fight lasted about three minutes from start to finish. That's a very long time in a fight. At some point it became clear to her that her pepper spray was not a viable option. I'm sure if the situation changed so that she could have used her pepper spray she would have used it.
Many people use the excuse of "well, I carry a gun (knife, pepper spray, taser, etc) everywhere I go" as an excuse as to why they will not take hand-to-hand training or train with other defensive systems. There may very well be a time when that tool is not available.
Angela had some hand-to-hand training. She used what she had and it may have saved her life. If you carry a self defense tool, have it accessible and have it ready to use but also be prepared for the possibility that that tool may not be available, or functioning.
If you choose to carry a defensive tool, get training with it. Run some scenarios with a trainer and a willing partner. Be realistic about its access and state of readiness and have a backup for it it's not available.
What stirred me to search out more information on Angela's story was the 911 tape. I wanted to hear it.
I found it in a radio interview with Angela and was shocked and enraged at what I heard.
Angela pleads for help and the dispatcher asks her where she is located. Angela tells the dispatcher and the dispatcher says, "I don't know where that is."
At that moment Angela ran. She was already starting to get a little delirious with blood loss but felt she needed to find help and that staying where she was would mean her death.
|The toll booth at the bottom of the parking ramp|
where Angela collapsed
It was later discovered that a separate 911 call from someone else at the scene was what actually got responders moving. Even so she found out later that the ambulance drove right past her and had to double back. Had she stayed where she was and relied solely on her 911 call she probably would have died.
Be aware that while we have an amazing system of response it is not infallible. In this area the difference between saying 3rd avenue and 3rd street could be the difference between the north side of town and the south. Even if your phone is equipped with GPS the call center you are calling into may not have the capability of accessing that information.
Even if dispatched to the correct location road blocks, construction, street set up and so much more can complicate responders reaching you in a timely fashion.
Take stock of where you are and be prepared to have an address be the first thing you say when connected with 911 operators. At least you got that out there. Whether or not the responders know what to do with that information is entirely on them.
Which brings me to my next point.
|Angela's 10" deep stab wound and scar|
The attack ended at 4:03 in the afternoon (according to time stamps on surveillance footage). She was rolled into the emergency room at 4:28.
Many people who are interested in self defense do not carry medical supplies. They operate under the assumption that in the unlikely event they will get attacked they will not only survive but if they suffer injuries the injuries will not be sufficient to kill them. Most people who run scenarios through their heads never postulate that they may be injured and if presented with a scenario that begins with an injury they often have no response or admit not having a good option.
A deep abdominal puncture wound like Angela's would be hard to treat outside of the hospital. You can't just put on a tourniquet and wait for paramedics. Applying a dressing on the top of the wound might be sufficient to keep some of the blood inside the body but the internal bleeding would continue. I searched high and low for advice on how to treat such a deep abdominal puncture wound and while one trauma doctor said he would not hesitate to try to pack the wound with something like QuikClot combat gauze, without being able to see the injured blood vessel it would likely not be as effective. Others I talked to reaffirmed his statement.
She needed surgery or she would have died. As it was it is a miracle she survived. But not all wounds are as severe as hers. And even if they are severe, many otherwise fatal wounds can be sufficiently treated outside of the hospital temporarily.
Do you have the skills and supplies to treat such wounds?
If not, why not?
If your interests really are in saving your own life, learn how to save a life. Get medical training and carry the equipment with you. You may not be able to treat everything but what you may be able to treat may save your life or the life of someone you love.
I asked Angela if she was aware of how severe her injury was. She said no. She said she knew she'd been stabbed only because she felt a warm sensation in her abdomen but did not know the extent of the injury and there was no pain. She was able to function and fight even while losing so much blood. While that should encourage us to fight even when injured be aware that the same is true of your attacker.
It's often said that stab wounds don't hurt. They feel like punches and many times people do not know they've been stabbed until they see blood. The pain does not come until later and even with severe injuries the ability to fight is not necessarily hindered. If you use a knife for self defense know how to target areas that will incapacitate not just cause pain or bleed. Get defensive knife training.
Take a look around at the fitness levels of people around you. Maybe even take a look in the mirror. We Americans are chronically out of shape and overweight. Middle-age and big-bellied has almost become the cliche image of gun totters. Many even cite the fact that they carry a gun as an excuse as to why they don't get in shape.
Angela fought for roughly three minutes (an eternity in a fight). She was stabbed and while bleeding internally she ran down four flights of a parking garage to help.
Many Americans would not have the physical stamina to make it through half of that.
I didn't have to ask Angela about her fitness level. She brought it up all on her own. She told me she was a runner and took her fitness seriously. She told me that she strongly believes her level of fitness helped her fight, survive and recover from her injury.
Take your fitness seriously. Stop making excuses. If you have a previous injury or ailment, acknowledge it but do what you can to improve the fighting condition of your body. Get out there and strength train, endurance train, it may very well be the difference between life and death.
Angela's story is an amazing example to those of us in the self defense community. Her strength and determination to fight are inspiring. Take inspiration from her but also learn from her.
Be aware. Be aware of your surroundings and those around you. Be aware of pre-fight indicators.
If you carry a defensive tool train with it. Have it accessible, ready to use and in good working order.
If your defensive tool is not available or not functioning be prepared to fight without it.
Be prepared to give an exact location to responders but don't rely solely on that to save you. Run, move, treat, seek alternative sources of help at the scene.
Have the skills and tools to treat injuries to yourself and others.
Be fit enough to fight.
Fight and survive!
A special thanks to Angela for her willingness to speak with me and share her story and pictures with me. Thank you for the inspiration!
Angela's mission is to inspire women to fight. Check out her Facebook page at Angela's Story: Fight Like a Girl.