Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hostage in Your Own Home

A knock comes at the door. You open it and find yourself staring down the barrel of a gun, as a gang of thugs push their way into your house.

That's kind of what happened in Seattle a few weeks ago, as the "Craigslist Killers" forced their way into a home where the owners were advertising jewelry for sale on Craigslist, a popular internet site. The criminals had seen the ad, called the owners to set up an appointment to come and see the jewelry and possibly purchase it. When the knock came at the door, the owners were expecting these "buyers" and a calm transaction.

It was anything but that. The thieves push their way into the house, guns drawn, and tied up the man, his wife and their son. Then they ransacked the place, looking for the jewelry. When the dad tried to get loose to protect his family, the bad guys shot him dead.

The only good news in all this is that within days, all four individuals (3 guys and 1 girl) involved in the robbery/murder were rounded up and arrested. But the whole incident raises the question about how you can survive a hostage situation. Here are some tips — but be aware that there are no guarantees when you're face to face with armed robbers. You are dealing with people who are not normal, not thinking like rational individuals, so anything can happen.
  • If you are armed and of a disposition to instantly fight back, do so with explosive violence before the bad guys can get inside your house and take your wife and children hostage. It's best to make them turn and run, or at least keep them outside. Once they're inside, it gets sketchy real fast. In an ambush, sometimes the best strategy is to attack the ambush, because they won't be expecting that and it will derail their plans. If you can throw the attackers into chaos, perhaps you can keep them outside, get to a safe room, arm yourself and call 9-1-1. Those steps would be a good plan of action. 
  • If, as in the situation outlined above, you are overwhelmed or taken by surprise and captured, try to determine the motivation of your captors. If it's just a theft, give them whatever they want and hopefully they'll leave. If it's something else (maybe you're just in the wrong place at the wrong time and get caught up in a crime in progress), do your best to remain calm and attempt to establish a rapport with the abductor. Unless the guy is a sociopath, if you are able to build a relationship with your captor, he will generally be less likely to harm you. 
  • Be compliant. If the captor tells you not to look at him, don't look at him. Don't do anything that will irritate the man with the gun at your head. 
  • Maintain your dignity. Don't cry or beg or grovel or become hysterical, because this can signal your captor that you're not worthy of life. Be cooperative, but steady and rational. If your captor views you as a human being who is willing to help him, he might not harm you. 
  • Don't become obnoxious and indignant, because that might be viewed as a challenge — kind of like making eye contact with a growling dog might set him from merely snarling to trying to eat you. Don't call the guy names or disrespect him, no matter how much he deserves it. Don't talk politics, but general discussion of religion might be helpful. Remain sensitive to reactions to anything you say, so you can change the direction of conversation if necessary. 
  • Be a good listener. Empathize with your abductor, show sympathy without becoming patronizing and phony. If he feels like you understand his plight in life, that psychological connection might keep you alive. 
  • If you are certain that your captors are about to kill you, all bets are off and it's time to find a way to escape or to fight back. You can either sit quietly and be killed, or go down fighting … or maybe fight your way out of it and not go down at all. This becomes especially dicey when other family members are involved in the hostage taking. Heroics might get somebody killed. Before making your move, be sure other family members are not going to be exposed to an angry captor who now wants to teach you a lesson by taking out his rage on your family. If you're about to be killed, you might decide that your only chance for survival is to try to overwhelm the captor(s), even at the risk of your life — 'cause your life is at risk anyway. Your decision. 
  • In my world, if it came down to that, I would make sure the captor(s) could not possibly ever come back to retaliate. Read that any way you want. 


  1. Rich I just wanted to take a min & do something I've never done before, comment on a blog. And not even really comment. I just want to thank you for putting this together and continuing to update it with important and relevant information. I have read every article you have posted and check eagerly every day to see what's new. But more important than that, because of the information on here I have actually begun taking the steps to prepare for the inevitable Just In Case scenario as have a few of my friends. I have refered everyone I know to your site and will continue to do so. Thanks for providing this resource for us all to use.
    sincerely KerryC

  2. Kerry,
    Thanks for your loyal following. My whole reason for doing this is to help people understand some important aspects of both urban and wilderness survival. So your comments made my day. I'm glad this is helping.