Monday, April 9, 2018

Thugs in the parking lot: The Kidnapping of Megan Holden

Megan Holden
Jan 22, 2005 - TYLER, Texas — A surveillance camera captured Johnny Lee Williams, Jr.’s kidnapping of Megan Leann Holden as she was leaving her clerk's job at a Wal-Mart. According to Tyler Police spokesman Don Martin, Williams who was wearing a long, dark coat – had been loitering around the front entrance of the store for almost two hours and had followed two women into the parking lot at different times, but as other people approached, he walked back to the entrance.

The video shows Holden getting into her truck and Williams running up behind her and either hitting or pushing her. Two days later, Holden’s body was found near Stanton, about 380 miles west of Tyler. Williams was later arrested in Arizona after a would-be victim who was legally armed shot Williams during a robbery attempt.

This is a quick note about transit zones. Transit zones are areas that we pass through as we go from one destination to another. We pass through numerous transit zones every day; however, we typically don't notice them because they're not inherently dangerous per se. It's not the transit zone that poses a danger, it's the criminal that often operates in the transit zone that presents the problem.

Williams attacking Holden
Criminals typically do not operate openly in a crowd because there are too many witnesses and individuals who might interfere. Conversely, if the criminal is too far from a crowd there are no potential victims available. This is where transit zones enter the picture. The transit zone is the ideal place to conduct criminal activity because people passing through them are typically focused on their destination and not necessarily paying attention to their surroundings.

A good example of a transit zone and one that many people pass through every day is the public parking lot like the one where Williams abducted Holden. When you're in a public parking lot you are typically focused on one thing—entering or exiting your car and then going somewhere else.

From the criminal's perspective the public parking lot offers several advantages. Parking lots are near crowded areas; therefore, enough people are passing through to enable the criminal to select a victim. Since they own a car, the potential victim probably has money or goods worth stealing. Potential victims are beyond the reach of immediate assistance, the parking lot's isolation gives the criminal time to commit the crime, and then quickly depart the scene with a reduced chance of getting caught.

You don’t need to be paranoid about passing through a transit zone; however you do need to pay attention to what is going on around you. People behaving in an unusual manner, things that are out of place, something that does not look right are a greater cause for concern in a transit zone. You should know what is normal for your daily transit zones so you can recognize what isn’t normal; however, before you can accurately determine if something is wrong, you must have a sense of what right looks like. While this seems obvious, most people probably never really think about it. 

People normally act very purposefully in a parking lot. They are getting in or out of their car, loading or unloading it, and then walking to or from a building or other destination. If someone is not doing one of these things, there should be clear reason; the hood of their car is up, they are briefly speaking to someone before they depart, etc.

People exhibiting normal behavior don’t hang out in the depths of a parking lot—that is something that is not quite right. People waiting to be picked up usually wait inside a building entrance, in an area near the door, or on the walkway. People who are waiting for someone in the parking lot tend to sit in their car, not by walking around or leaning on someone else’s car.

People walking through a parking are typically focused on their destination and will generally follow the driving aisles and not cut between rows. If they do cut between rows, their behavior will be consistent with a destination and cutting between rows is a short cut to that goal. If they forgot where they parked, their behavior is still very purposeful. They will not be casually wandering about looking into cars or watching people. A person who is reacting to your movement or changing his course to intercept you is not acting in a normal manner and is very likely up to no good.

I pulled into a pharmacy parking lot late one evening to get a prescription filled. As I got out of my car, I noticed a man I had not seen previously sitting in the shadows stand up and start walking toward me on an intercept course. I changed direction and so did he in response; I changed again and so did he. I was determined not to let him get close to me so I continued to maneuver through the cars until I got close enough to the front of the building that the man turned around, cursing as he walked away. What did he want? I have no idea and was not interested in finding out. When I was ready to leave the pharmacy, I asked a security guard near the entrance to observe me as I returned to my car.

One of the key differences between police and private citizens when it comes to dealing with criminals is that the police must get close to the criminal in order to apprehend them—the police chase, so the criminal runs or fights back. Interaction between a private citizen and a criminal is different however, for criminal to successfully victimize someone they have to get relatively close to that person to conduct the crime. Criminals want to do this in a place that gives them the anonymity and privacy to do their business with a reduced chance of getting caught.

This short discussion outlined only a few of the behaviors that we see every day in a parking lot; however, if you think about it, these concepts apply to a variety of other locations and circumstances as well. Is the car behind you following you or simply going the same direction? Why is someone loitering in the stairwell, near the ATM? As you go about your daily routine, consider the transit zones you pass through. Learn to recognize where you would be in danger if someone chose you as a potential victim. These are the places where you don't want to be trapped. Trust your intuition, if you see something that looks wrong—it probably is—go somewhere else.

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