By The Maj.
Such is the time of year…. Everyone is busy with the “season”, running here, running there, shopping in large crowds, going to parties, and possibly making a trip out of town or two. It is and should be a festive time of year, a time to visit with friends and family, and a time to relax. It is also the time of year when most people tend to let their guard down.
This past Christmas Eve my family and I were preparing to run the gambit of Christmas that has become normal for us. It all starts with attending a Christmas Eve church service, then to my parent’s house for Christmas with them, then back home for presents with the family, followed by “Santa Claus” for the kids, and finishing everything up for lunch on Christmas Day at the in-laws. Needless to say, it can become busy, hectic, and a little stressful. As usual my wife was running a little behind and the kids’ excitement was flowing over. I was playing usual herd master trying to get everyone out the door so we would not be late. When we were just about ready to leave I retrieved my CCW from the fingertip safe under the bed and my wife said, “It is Christmas Eve, do you really feel the need to carry tonight?” Against my better judgement I put the CCW back into the safe and we left for church.
Leaving my parents’ house, we were all feeling pretty good for the five minute drive home where it would be more presents for the kids and off to bed for Santa to come (I was dreading putting the stuff together that Santa was going to bring). My daughter was the first to notice something amiss and called attention to the side door of the house being open. When I saw the dog in the yard and barn light on, the bells and whistles were going off in my head. I stopped in the driveway ( My house sits a good piece off the road) and weighed my options. I decided to take my wife’s vehicle carry pistol (Taurus 5 shot 9mm revolver) to approach the house. I knew calling 911 on Christmas Eve was going to be a long wait. I exited the vehicle, leaving my wife and kids defenseless and instructed my wife to go back to my parent’s house. She protested but did what I said.
When they left the driveway, I watched the house and barn for any sign of a reaction from anyone that might have been in the house or barn. After 10 minutes, I called 911 and told them what was going on and my intentions, what I was wearing and what I looked like. The dispatcher wanted me to remain on the line, but I told her that I would not. I cleared the barn and shop first for two reasons – I could clear it quicker and it would give me access to a 20 gauge Remington 870 Youth Model and buckshot that I keep under the work bench in the shop. Also, I could still maintain somewhat of a visual on the house but if I opted for the house first I could not see the barn.
After clearing the barn, with the 870 in hand, I deliberately cleared the entire house. I had practiced it from every door in the house several times. I checked the open door for signs of forced entry but found none. Proceeded in through the laundry room, into the kitchen, then the den. In the den I had two options and opted to lock an exterior door that leads into our sunroom and clear the dining room, son’s bedroom, daughter’s bedroom, guest bathroom, master bedroom and master bath. Then I proceeded upstairs to clear my office, guest bedroom, and upstairs bathroom. After that I cleared the sunroom, exited the house through the sunroom exterior door (locking it behind me) and circled completely around the house. For good measure, I cleared the detached garage and storage room above it.
Satisfied that no one was in the house, barn, or on my property, I called my dad and asked him to come over so that he could watch my back while I determined what, if anything was missing. Keep in mind, the sheriff’s deputies have yet to arrive. I sat down on the front steps to wait for my dad to arrive and while I am waiting a truck drives slowly past my house and stops just out of view in the road at the edge of some planted pines. I could see the brake lights through the trees and noticed the interior light of the truck come on and go off when the truck door slammed. I could not tell if it was the driver that had stopped to get out and take a leak on a country road or if he had stopped to pick someone up that had been inside my house. The tree line is the first place someone can get out of LOS from my house in any direction because I live in the middle of a 40 acre hayfield.
When my dad arrived, I posted him in the den of the house, which has a clear view of every entry door to the house. I called 911 again and told the dispatcher that I had found no one in the house and asked where the deputies were to which she replied ”they are enroute”. I asked her to inform the deputies that my father had joined me on site, his name and appearance. I also told her about the light colored pickup I had seen. I hung up and went through the house again, paying attention to see if anything was missing. I did not find anything out of order or missing.
The deputies arrived about one hour fifteen minutes to an hour and a half after I called. Makes you feel really “protected and served” doesn’t it. After they finished their reports, I called my wife and told her to bring the kids home. Once they arrived, we went ahead with our presents, put the kids to bed, and put Santa presents out. I remained restless for the remainder of the night.
Going through the events of the night, I assumed one of two things happened: either the kids did not pull the door all the way too when we left earlier OR someone managed to get into the house without a key and without causing any damage in order to case the house so they could come back later (ala the truck that drove past the house really slow). I did not like any of it at all and ran the events of the night through my head over and over. Every “bump” or strange sound would startle me awake, once I did finally fall asleep.
The next morning, I got up and walked around in the yard to see if I could see any sign anyone had approached the house or barn on foot. I found no such sign and no vehicle tracks. As I walked around in the cool morning air, I ran through a list of what went right, what went wrong, and what needed to be corrected or addressed. Even though I knew deep down that the door to the house had not been fully closed locked properly, I still did not feel great about leaving for the in-laws’ house an hour and a half drive away later in the morning. I also did not feel great about returning to the house after dark Christmas night and drove the entire way back pondering all the possibilities – even though upon my return, nothing was amiss.
What went wrong?
- I did not check the door before leaving the house. After inspecting the strike plate, I found that it needed adjusting (which happens to most exterior doors over time) so I really could not blame the last person out when it was a lack of maintenance on my part that contributed to the wind/pressure/dog managing to open the door.
- I broke my routine of concealed carry which will not happen again. I ALWAYS carry when the law allows regardless of the situation and even when it does not, I secure my firearm before exiting the vehicle and retrieve it when I clear a “gun free zone”. I found myself having to rely on a 5-shot revolver which is a perfectly fine firearm but one that I rarely practice with. Also, taking that revolver left my wife and family without a weapon in the vehicle.
- I do not have a monitored alarm system in my home. I have the signs, screamer door stops on the rarely used doors, motion lights outside, some light timers inside, the TV programmed to come on automatically, and motion activated lights in a few areas of the house (hall, dining room, and stairs). However, if I had a simple, monitored alarm system in the house, I would have been alerted to the door being open before driving into the situation blind, which could have provided me with other options.
- I did not have a tactical flashlight in my wife’s vehicle, only a D-Cell MagLite for roadside emergencies. While every other vehicle I own has a tactical flashlight that stays with that vehicle, my wife’s vehicle did not.
- Living in a rural area you expect to sacrifice certain things like drive times to the store, not having close neighbors, and the all important emergency response times. Even with that understanding, there is not a place in the county I live in that I cannot drive to in 45 minutes or less driving the speed limit! An hour and a half response time is a major problem, but just goes to show the saying “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away” rings true. In my case it happens to be hours.
- I must have inadvertently left the light on inside the barn, which is totally on me. Since I was working in there during the day, it was an honest mistake.
What went right?
- My wife listened to me once in her life. She did not like the fact that she was leaving me on my own but she only questioned it briefly before carrying herself and the kids to safety. We have discussed and practiced scenarios similar to what we were presented with so she knew what had to be done. And she knows I am smart enough and experienced enough to back out of the situation if it warranted it.
- I had a better firearm accessible (20 GA in the barn). If for some reason, I could not have made it safely to the barn and retrieved that firearm or been keyed to something else I would have simply backed away to a safe observation point and waited for LE to arrive. There is no way I would have attempted to clear the house with a 5-shot revolver by myself.
- I had practiced, many times, clearing my house from each entry door singly and in tandem with my wife. I even incorporated my brother to play the “bad guy” to show gaps in clearing and addressed those issues. Now, I know there are many saying “you should not have even attempted to clear the house by yourself”. Well, I have the experience and training, I am confident in my abilities, and most importantly I know my house and property better than any common criminal ever will. If any one of those things were missing I would not have attempted it AND I would not recommend it to anyone else unless they have those keys. It all came down to a personal choice and knowing how long it would take LE to arrive, besides the fact that I already knew that I would fall back to where I could observe the house if at any point something was not to my advantage.
What needs to be corrected and/or addressed?
- I will NEVER leave the house again without my CCW. It is the one firearm I train with the most and the one firearm I should never be without.
- Always leave your home with the idea that something may be wrong upon your return. I am not suggesting that you should live in fear but you should always have a plan in place for that “oh crap” moment, even when you are returning home. BTW, driving off is always an option.
- Keep a tactical flashlight in all vehicles, at all times.
- Have a monitored home security system installed.
- Routinely check door latches and locking mechanisms to ensure they are functioning properly. Adjust or replace them as necessary.
- Double check the house to ensure it is secure before leaving and never get in too big of a hurry.
- Discuss the importance of ensuring everything is locked down with the kids, but do not rely on them (check behind them).
- Do not plan on relying on local LE for a quick response.
- No matter what is going on, never, ever get lax or let your guard down.
Hopefully, everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was more exciting than usual but the most important thing is we all made it through safe and sound. The excitement was my fault and turned out to be much ado about nothing, but it did help to reveal some holes in some of my plans that needed to be addressed. Hopefully, some of the lessons I learned will help someone else in shoring up their personal/physical security around the house.