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Chelsea King’s final 5 lessons for us all

March 4, 2010
Image of murder victim Chelsea King

Chelsea King (ABC.com)

Seventeen-year-old Chelsea King of San Diego was murdered while jogging along a trail in her hometown. The man accused of her murder is also suspected in at least one more murder and another foiled attempt. If Chelsea could speak to us today, this is what I think she would say.

  1. Tragedy can happen, even if you think “it will never happen to me.” We need to overcome our feelings of invincibility. True, we all logically recognize that the world is dangerous. Few of us miss the violent onslaught of the nightly news. But somewhere deep down inside, we continue to believe “it will never happen to me.” Maybe it’s because we would rather focus on kindness than hate. Maybe we want to feel safe instead of under siege. Whatever the cause, we need to recognize that the world is dangerous, and you, too, could someday be a victim.
  2. Hidden among the thousands of lambs, there are wolves. Most of us are law-abiding citizens who will never commit a crime beyond a traffic citation. But among the faces of any large crowd, there will be a monster. Someone without a drop of empathy or conscience.  John Albert Gardner III, 30, the man accused of Chelsea’s murder as of this writing, is one of them. He plead guilty to molesting a 13-year-old girl in 2000. He is accused of attempted rape in an attack on a 22-year-old female jogger a few months ago in the same area where Chelsea was jogging. (He has plead not guilty to Chelsea’s murder.) If you live among the thousands of people in the San Diego area, chances are you wouldn’t run into him. Chances are you won’t run into anyone like him in your area. But someday, luck may not be by your side.
  3. Our laws and court systems can’t always protect us. Despite the fact that Gardner plead guilty to molesting a 13-year-old girl and served jail time, luring his victim to his apartment by asking her to watch a kids’ movie, despite the fact he is a registered sex offender, despite the fact he is suspected of attempted rape in the December attack on the 22-year-old, Gardner was on the street and free to attack again.
  4. Information can be a matter of life and death, and we often don’t have it. Local newspapers used to visit local law enforcement and court houses daily. If you wanted to know what was happening in your community, you read the local paper. Today, many of those papers are out of business. In those that remain, the number of reporters has dwindled. We can no longer rely on comprehensive crime coverage from local papers, and Web-based operations don’t have the money to do it, either. On top of that, local, state and federal law enforcement have not adopted digital technology to alert residents of danger. The Amber Alert system does not have an RSS feed, which is the primary method of propagating information on the Internet. Most state and federal law enforcement agencies have no formal method to quickly alert residents to crime. Even the U.S. Department of Justice, which launched a wide variety of feeds a couple years ago, have let them die on the vine. The last updates to those feeds, as of this writing, were in 2008. A radio news report suggested that Gardner lives 19 houses away from where Chelsea lived. Did she know it? Did her family know it? Did anyone know it?
  5. Be aware of dangers, and be prepared to fight for your life. Understanding the reality of the first four lessons above is the first step. But it’s not enough. We must have the wisdom to know when to fight back, and we must be capable of fighting for our lives. Gardner’s suspected attack on the 22-year-old in December was foiled when the victim fought back and escaped. She may have been lucky. She may have been prepared. But the fact is she got away. Chelsea didn’t. We don’t know what safety precautions she took, we don’t know if she reacted to the attack with fear-induced paralysis or savage anger. But the simple fact is, if you are prepared to deal with a violent attack, your chances of survival go up. A San Diego columnist took up this issue in a touching column about the crime, which ends with the comments of a female jogger who at least has a plan, and it involves a sharp object and the criminal’s eyes.

“Once provoked, I proceed to beat the crap out of the guy, using a trick I learned in a self-defense class in college. Poking a man in the eye with a pen or pencil is more effective than almost any other form of injury. Why? Aside from the obvious (ouch!), when identifying him later, it’s easy to say, ‘He’s the one with the missing eye.’ ”

Read the full column.

Rest in peace, Chelsea.

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