My husband and I left behind the house we’d intended to grow old in. We gave up the magnificent dining room that we’d hoped to one day entertain our grandchildren in. We let it all go to protect our family.
We traded a beautiful, spacious, old home for the promise of greater security; because the once-grand neighborhood in which we’d resided became a hot-bed of crime as house prices declined and gang activity increased.
So, there we were sleeping soundly (in our new, safe, country home) about a year later, when our 7 year old daughter stood in the doorway of our bedroom and announced, “The man just left.”
Our eyes popped open simultaneously as we tried to regain consciousness and process the words she’d just uttered. For about half of a second I considered waving her back to bed with the instruction, “Don’t worry, it was just a nightmare.” But something told me to get up and investigate.
Over the next few minutes my petite daughter would recount how she’d heard the doorbell ring and then a little while later our basement door creaked open. She said she’d watched in silence as a strange man peeked into her bedroom and then turned back.
My sweet, innocent girl had gotten out of bed and followed the intruder into our main room where she and he had a conversation. She asked his name and offered to wake up her daddy and mama so we could help him.
By the Grace of God Alone
Thankfully, as they spoke in whispered tones, he made his way across the room, unlatched the front door and fled the scene. By the grace of God alone, he left with nothing more than a beer he’d pilfered from our extra fridge.
Well, honestly, he could have taken anything he wanted and I wouldn’t have cared all that much because we can always replace stuff. But, even now as I write this (7 years later), I still get chills running up my spine and a sick feeling in my stomach when I realize he could have easily carried my precious, irreplaceable baby girl into the dark night with him.
Never in a million years did we consider that we were vulnerable to a home invasion. We’d taught our children about strangers in public, fire safety and what to do if they got lost, but we hadn’t imagined a scenario in which an intruder would descend upon us while we were tucked away in our beds.
When I stood in our open front doorway that night and contemplated it all, I cried. I suddenly understood how the unthinkable stories of Jon Benet and Elizabeth Smart happened.
Crash Course in Home Protection
We’ve learned a number of important things since that frightful night. From the mistakes we were making to the safety measures we didn’t realize we needed to take, we got a crash course in home protection.
First, home invasion is somewhat different from burglary. While a burglar looks to enter a house when the occupants are least likely to be home, the home invader typically breaks in when there is a high probability that people will be home.
It is common for this kind of criminal to knock on the front door or ring the doorbell, as ours did (unfortunately our bell wasn’t loud enough to wake my husband or me). Sometimes, they’ll force their way in when an unsuspecting home owner answers the door. Or they have been known to kick open a garage, front or back door to gain entry.
A home invader may make up a story to get you to open the door. They often claim that their car is broken down or out of gas, that they hit your parked car, or they may pretend to be a delivery person- anything to get you to open the door and let your guard down.
Once every police officer in town got finished searching our house and yard, they made a point of strongly encouraging us to get an audible alarm installed. Of course, an alarm may not be enough to stop an intruder from attempting to break-in, but it will at least wake the homeowners so that they have a chance to call the police and to defend themselves if necessary.
We chose a monitored alarm system because we wanted the added benefit of a third party helping to keep our family safe.
House guests were staying with us on the night of our home invasion. The change in our routine caused us to overlook some basic security steps. Our garage door was left open and the entry door into our basement was unlocked. It was the perfect combination of horrible oversights.
Now we have a nightly ritual of sorts. We double-check that every door is locked and the alarm is turned on before going to bed. We’ve installed heavy duty locks as well as a motion detector.
We never leave first-floor windows open at night or when we are out of the house. If you must open a window, don’t open it high enough for a person to squeeze through and use long nails (inserted through pre-drilled holes in the window frames) to lock the window in a low position.
We always look through the peephole before opening the door. We’ve told our children not to open the door for a stranger, even a delivery person. Never trust a chain latch to keep you safe.
My kids and I talk to visitors through the door and the standard reply we give to odd requests is, “We’ll call the police for you. They can help you out.”
My teens and babysitters all know that I will never arrange for a guest or service worker to visit when I am not home. So, I tell them not to open the door for anyone for any reason. I do, however, tell them to speak to the visitor through the door rather than pretend no one is home. This way the person knows that someone inside is aware of their presence.
If anyone is acting peculiar or poking around the property, we call the police immediately. It is always better to be safe rather than sorry.
Oddly, we left a high crime area to protect our family, but we discovered that no place is completely risk-free. The police who worked our case made a point of telling us that they’d never dealt with a crime of this kind in our area.
Regardless of our address, we now know that nowhere is immune. No one is off-limits to criminals, but we can all reduce the likelihood of becoming victims if we educate ourselves and consistently take basic safety measures.
Do you have a family plan in place for addressing a stranger at your door?
Do you always remember to lock your doors, windows and cars?