A Study in Situational Awareness and Preparation Failures

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles, Tactical Training Scenarios

  • SumoMe

Written by Greg Ellifritz



A Massachusetts woman was stabbed and her young child was briefly held hostage by a knife-wielding criminal outside of a grocery store.  The entire incident was caught on surveillance video.  Before reading any further, click on the link below and watch the short video.


This crime was tragic, but preventable.  The woman’s reaction was not unusual.  Panic and fear cause people to do strange things.


Let’s take a look at what she could have done to avoid this crime:


1) Awareness

Train yourself to look for and recognize predatory movement patterns.  The guy making several passes walking by the same place and his quick turn around should have alerted the woman that something was wrong.


Trust your instincts.  If you get a bad feeling about a situation, don’t try to rationalize or ignore it, ACT!  When the woman pulled up in the car, she should have done a quick scan of the sidewalk, the street, and the store she was entering.  She should be looking for anything that doesn’t seem right.  She should have seen the man, but likely didn’t.  She could have stayed in the car until he was a safer distance away or she could have driven off if she was paying attention.


2) Minimize distractions when you are in a public place.

Look at the video again.  When did the man make the decision to attack?  Precisely the moment he realized the woman was distracted when getting her daughter out of the car.  The best course of action to take if you have a young child like this is to:


– unfasten your child’s seat belt of car seat straps while you are still inside the locked vehicle with the engine running

-scan your surroundings before exiting the car

– get out of the car and lock it

– walk to your child’s door

– do another scan before unlocking it

– quickly get your child out of the car


If the woman would have locked the door and done a second scan, the man would have likely moved on to an easier victim.  If he did choose to press the attack, the child would be relatively safe in the locked car and she would have a little more time to access a weapon or move to place the car as a barrier between herself and the robber.


3. If you have children, factor them into your self defense decisions

Most people viewing this video would express shock that the mother would just run away from her daughter and leave her in the hands of a criminal.  It’s really not uncommon to see strange reactions like this.  Without prior thought and planning, the body tends to default to one of two likely reactions when faced with overwhelming stress…freeze or flee.  This woman fled because she didn’t have a pre-planned response and didn’t have time to fully evaluate all of her options.


Parents think a lot about their kids, but it has been my experience that they don’t think about what to do with their kids if the are attacked.  If you have children, create a code word that signal an emergency and train your children to obey your commands without question after you use the code word.  If the woman used a code word like “Emergency” with her daughter and then told her daughter to either run into the store or get back into the car, the results likely would have been better for her.


Although potentially painful to consider, you must have a plan to deal with a kidnapping as well.  Criminals know that kids are easier prey than adults.  They also know that if they snatch your kid, you’ll likely do whatever they want.  You need to prepare for that possibility.


While you are at it, teach your kids how to fight an abduction attempt.  Shrugging off clothing (or a backpack) like the little girl did in this case works a surprising amount of time.  So does holding on to inanimate objects like bikes or cars.  If these tactics fail, teach your children to bury a finger into the eye of the attackers as deeply as possible.


4. Know your physical capabilities

In almost every women’s self defense class I teach, I ask my students what they would do if they are ever attacked.  About 80% of them say “I would run away.”  How did that work for this young mother?


Everyone needs to acknowledge reality.  The average violent criminal is a male aged 16-25.  Can you outrun the average teenage boy?  If you can, great!  Flight would be a good option for you.  If not, you need another plan.  Even if you are a fast runner, you can’t flee every situation.  What if you were trapped in a tight hallway or indoor room?  What if you had kids (like this woman did) that you don’t want to leave behind?  What if you were wearing high heels or flip flops?


I hate to rain on your parade, but running away isn’t the best option for most people, male or female.  Get some good physical skills training.  Carry a weapon (or weapons) if it is legal and you have training.


And most importantly:




Don’t go around in public like a mindless automaton.  Pay attention to what’s going on around you and have a plan for every eventuality.


Otherwise you might end up like this woman…stabbed and having to deal with a traumatized child.






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8 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. ferndale says:

    not a week goes by that i don’t email my wife a link from your blog. this is the exact kind of writing that makes it easier to talk about uncomfortable things.

  2. D. Hide says:

    There’s that mindless “run away” response that we hear from a lot of people who haven’t actually thought about how to deal with violent encounters, and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves!

    People don’t think about obstacles and shortcomings – As you said, we’re not talking about a simple jog here. You’ve gotta be both fast and free to be fast. Heck, how many people have tripped on their own feet trying to get away? Not even anything on the ground, just falling over. Introduce any obstacle and that becomes a real issue, and now you’re in a fight anyway from a very compromised position! I doubt most people can outrun a predatory animal, that’s another thing to consider. Four legs can be much faster than two in the short run.

    When I hear people dismiss complex and diverse situations like that, it’s hard to figure out where to begin. As they have very little to no knowledge of violent encounters, you kind of have to spell it out for them. They might actually believe they can always run away and be successful no matter what, and that may be another issue with the lack of contingency planning that’s a symptom of a bigger problem. This is why I believe, among other things, that basic tactical awareness ought to be a school-taught and oft-practiced skill. Drop the finger-painting sessions if you must, kids can do that just fine at home (and make a real mess too, but I digress lol…).

    Either that, or everybody train like an Olympic sprinter! No doubt a lot more difficult for most than learning some basic combatives.

  3. Karl says:

    Situational Awareness IS the KEY!!

    It truly amazes me how many people I see looking down at their phones and texting while walking around outside! Or otherwise just walking around in a fog, paying no attention to their surroundings.

    While I would NEVER wish something like this on the woman in the video, she really didn’t seem very bright. Hate to sound so judgemental, but I don’t know how else to qualify the behaviors I just saw in the video.

    Am glad she at least survived; hopefully this is a teachable moment for her AND whoever else watches this video.

    Video was also a good silent argument for CCW permits!

  4. JMD says:

    Part of the problem here is that most people can remain oblivious and get through life just fine. I heard a statistic a long time ago that stated that 1 out of 4 people will be involved in a violent encounter in their lifetime. That number went up drastically if you lived in a big city, but still, that means that you have better than even odds of getting by just fine without practicing situational awareness or preparing in any way for a violent encounter. Even if you’re in that 25% category, you might go years before the event happens.

    The problem is that since such an event doesn’t happen often, most people just assume they will never happen (or if they do, there was nothing they could have done anyway). It’s uncomfortable to think about the possibility of a violent encounter, and, since it probably won’t happen, we might as well just ignore the possibility. (Besides, that kind of thing only happens to other kinds of people).

    The way I see it, a little bit of preparation and awareness might make a huge difference in the outcome of a violent encounter. Even if such a thing never happens to me, the odds are pretty good that it might happen to my wife or one of my two daughters. By learning about situational awareness and violence prevention, I can help to prepare them to avoid or handle a violent encounter. Helping them be safe is an even greater reward than protecting myself.

  5. Papa "J" says:

    Yet another good thing for us all to think about. Your comment in #2 about unfastening your child’s belt isn’t always that easy. A child should always be in the back seat. If the child is very young & in a car seat, you basically have to climb in the back seat to remove the seat, or belt. However, once of age, the child should be instructed on how to remove the belt when they are told. My wife has her pepper spray with her most of the time, but mainly while commuting. Although we discuss being aware of your surroundings at all times, people can become very complacent and are only thinking of the task at hand. I too will be more diligent about knowing my surroundings.This scenario could have been much different also. The attacker just wanted her purse. Being aware is not being paranoid. What if he sucker punched her and then grabbed the kid and fled? Unfortunately our society wants to protect the criminals more than our law abiding citizens. Let me be in charge of the criminals and it will be reduced to practically nothing in a short time. Sorry, I have NO compassion for someone that inflicts bodily harm on another.

  6. NE Patriot says:

    I live fairly close to this area. Springfield MA is absolutely OUT OF CONTROL when it comes to violent crime. The area this happened in has a very large far east immigrant population who just don’t know or realize how bad it really is to be out and about especially at night. You can say that most are clueless to their surroundings!! I’m not kidding when I say that every morning the local radio station I listen to reports stabbings, murders and home invasions along with robberies and general mayhem. And to make it all worse, MA is a “may issue” state in regards to pistol permits and the Springfield police chief VERY rarely issues permits in Springfield! So even if you wanted to get a permit for protection, your out of luck. And don’t think the criminals don’t know this. Now the state police may be called in to help according to news reports. Now just think how bad it would get should the SHTF? Yea, not good as the residents can’t even protect themselves.

  7. Don Towers says:

    Greg, I regularly share your articles on my group Facebook page, North Atlanta GeorgiaCarry.org. Great stuff always!

    I’m a big proponent of situational awareness, getting one’s face out of that cell phone, and paying attention always to one’s surroundings. Having a firearm or other weapon is only piece of the puzzle.

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