No one, the saying goes, ever expects bad things to happen to them. Getting mugged is simply not something people dwell on as they move through their daily lives. Yet every week the local police reports contain evidence that such thinking is at best flawed.
In the wake of a rash of armed robberies and other criminal activity in their neighborhoods, Northeast Oak Park residents are now reassessing their security. For area residents Kathy Hansen and another woman, however, that reassessment occurred some time ago.
"I never gave him a second look"
Hansen has been robbed twice, in 1985 and again in 1995. The second incident she said, was the worst. Coming home from her job at Wednesday Journal on a March mid-afternoon, she drove down the alley to her garage, past a man in another car.
"I never gave him a second look" she said. But when Hansen came out of the side door of her garage, laden with material from work, the man was standing there. When he grabbed Hansen's purse, she instinctively pulled back, and the man then threw her forcefully to the sidewalk.
"I still remember the concrete rushing up at me," she recalled.
Momentarily stunned, Hansen picked herself up just in time to see the man drive by?#34;holding up a piece of cardboard against his window to obscure his face.
A quiet rustle, then a gun against her temple
Another area woman, who lives on North Taylor Avenue, had her moment on the first day of daylight savings time in the fall of 2003. While she said she discusses the incident with friends and neighbors, she asked not to be identified to avoid creating trauma for her kids.
"I never told my kids," she said of being robbed at gunpoint. "I didn't want to create fear in them."
Like Hansen, the woman said that prior to falling victim to an armed robber, she hadn't thought twice about the potential dangers around her, saying, "I was living life without paying attention."
Her garage door had been malfunctioning, and she'd taken to parking her car in front of her house, walking around back, and opening her door manually. Forgetting that the clock had fallen back an hour the night before, she hadn't turned on her yard light. In the "total darkness" of her yard as she stepped out of the side door, she heard a quiet rustle, and thought it was a rabbit.
"I locked the door, and as I turned, someone whispered 'Don't turn around,'" she said.
She saw something out of the corner of her eye, something hard and black against her temple. While she couldn't make it out clearly, she could tell it was a gun.
The man, who was as tall as she, whispered again several times, "Don't turn around."
Instead, the woman screamed?#34;for what she thinks was at least 10 seconds.
No one came, however, and the man calmly waited her out.
"He stood there, waiting for me to stop yelling, then he said 'Give me the purse.'"
The woman recalled she had quickly made up her mind that if the gunman simply wanted her valuables, he could have them. If he was intent on raping her, however, she'd resist.
"I told myself I wasn't going to be raped. I'd fight to the end. I'd die."
She gave up the purse.
As the man walked in front of her to leave via the back gate, she saw that he was dressed in what she termed a :"criminal uniform."
"He had a hoodie on, and black baggie jeans."
Both women said that as the trauma faded, wisdom set in.
"As I came down (from the adrenaline) it was scary," the woman said. "But it makes you think how it could have gone differently. Both what I could have done, and what they could have done."
"If I'd just turned on the light," she said.
Part of what made her second mugging worse, Hansen noted, was that, while the first robber was caught "almost immediately," the man who robbed her 10 years ago was on the loose for another two weeks. The other was that she knew the man had intended to injure her. For over a month, well after her bruised and swollen face healed, her nerves remained on edge.
"I was much jumpier," Hansen said, recalling sitting on an el train shortly after the incident. When a young African American near her made a sudden move, she nearly jumped out of her seat.
"I felt embarrassed that I felt that way," she said.
Both women said that they realize they can't ever take timely assistance for granted. Hansen said that two Doberman dogs that were "always out" two doors away were inside the afternoon she was robbed. The other woman said she was certain one of her neighbors would hear her yelling. But afterwards they told her that they had thought it was just someone rough housing outside.
In light of their experiences, both women made significant changes.
"I got responsible for myself," the woman said. "I got the garage door fixed, (and) I made a point of having a light on whenever I use the yard."
"If I'm in an alley now, I never let down my guard," said Hansen. "If anyone is even remotely close to me, I drive around the block."
"I just want people to get responsible," added the other woman. "Open your eyes. Get to know your neighbors."