Expat Avoids "Express Kidnapping" Attempt
Wednesday, April 01 2009 @ 01:28 PM EDT
Contributed by: Kevin Bradley
DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - I received the following today from Kristin (snip). She narrowly avoided becoming the next victim of an "express kidnapping" in Panama City just yesterday afternoon. While playing poker at the Veneto last night I was told of yet another expat who wasn't so lucky as Kristin. He hopped into a taxi on Via Espańa near the Blockbuster. The taxi driver picked him up and then drove just half a block where three more men quickly jumped into the cab. The drove him all over town, forced him to pull as much money as possible out of an ATM, stole all of his possessions (watch, rings, wallet, etc.) and then left him without a dime out behind the Roberto Duran stadium. He was unharmed, and both of these people were very lucky. Please read the following story and LEARN from the experiences of others. If you continue to wander around with an "it can't happen to me" attitude, then you might just as well paint a big, fat target on your forehead. Anyway, please read on... (more)
"Today was a normal quiet Sunday (my favorite day in Panama) in El Cangrejo for me until about 1:00PM.
I went to buy a pizza at the place where the Einstein head is. I parked my car in front of the Canadian school there as Sunday it is empty. I got out and looked at the pizza place, and saw that it was closed. There was a man waiting beside his car, next to mine. I asked him if he knew of a pizza place nearby. He thought about it for a minute, then said no.
Just as I was back in my car and about to drive away, he tapped on the passenger side window. I lowered the window halfway to let him tell me about the pizza place he just remembered. He kept pointing the other direction to show me the street I should drive toward, in doing so his hand kept coming into the car. It may not have been weird if the window was all the way down, but it was too awkward what he had to do. It seemed like he wanted me to turn my head so he could grab my purse that was sitting on the seat. I quickly and politely said thank you, and pulled away.
Looking back, I saw the man quickly get into his car and pull out, so fast that we almost backed into each other. It just felt strange. I kept an eye on him as he followed me down to Via Argentina, then on to Via Espana, then zig zagging through Obarrio, where it became clear that I was DEFINITELTY being followed. He continued to follow me onto Calle 50, all the way to Atlapa, then back around to Niko’s Café in front of Multi Plaza. I was on the phone with my parents making plans as to where I should drive, as I realized that I have NO idea where the police stations are in this town.
He pulled up next to me as we slowed for a light. I motioned to him asking why he was following me. His windows were tinted mirror tint, so I could not see in. He ended up ahead of me in the lane next to me. The light turned green and he didn’t go. Cars were honking to him to move, and finally he had to. I, of course took the opportunity to take a right hand turn where he could not and got away and met my parents at Price Mart.
When we came out, I really felt another car was following me from there, though am not as sure as the other. I was able to get away and lose this car after doing a lap past my apartment. I know many of the guys who are waiting to kidnap women and take them to the cash machines work in teams.
This is the first time anything like this has happened to me. Panama feels like such a safe place to me, and I realize now how much I leave my guard down here. I am so glad that something about my instincts told me to beware and be AWARE during this situation, and nothing bad came of it.
This week and moving forward, my goals are to:
1. Know the police stations in the city
2. Make sure I know the emergency numbers
3. Always remember to have ˝ tank or more of gas
4. Be more aware of my surroundings
I feel very fortunate to be able to tell this story without a bad ending. Please be sure to spread the word that we need to be careful, conscientious, and not to forget that things can happen to any of us, no matter where in the world we are. Make sure you also know where the police stations are, and what the emergency numbers are. Share this story so that we can all be more conscious in our day to day lives and avoid what could have come next.
This happened 5 minutes from my house in a corner that I walk by EVERYDAY. I am taking this as a warning and an opportunity to make sure it never happens again, and if it does…. I will at least be prepared. I hope you will too.
My Observations: Kristin did the right thing, for the most part. She was obviously caught flat-footed but recovered quickly. She did several things right but in reacting to this threat she also made some critical mistakes that could have cost her life. Please recognize I'm taking advantage of having Kristin's story here, told with her own words, to be able to use this sequence of events to highlight some of the potential trouble areas. As they say, you can't argue with success, and what Kristin did worked just fine. But, there are a few things she could have done a little differently to improve her chances.
" I lowered the window halfway..." Just a crack would do. You can communicate and still keep the window up high enough to keep someone from reaching into your car. This is particularly true for a young woman alone. Everyone in the entire country is concerned about safety and street violence, so don't be concerned about looking like you're being too cautious.
"...in doing so his hand kept coming into the car. It may not have been weird if the window was all the way down, but it was too awkward what he had to do. It seemed like he wanted me to turn my head so he could grab my purse that was sitting on the seat." Every red light in the world should have gone off in Kristin's head at this instant. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS! Look at the words Kristin uses in her account of what happened - "weird", "awkward", "it seemed like he..." At that exact moment she should have recognized her life was potentially at risk.
"I quickly and politely said thank you, and pulled away." OK, good. Rule #1 = "move." I've been through a whole lot of counter-terrorist training given to US military members who work overseas, and there are two primary things all potential victims have to overcome. You can actually see Kristin overcoming the first one (to become aware and recognize the threat.) One second she was going out for a pizza and the next she felt something "weird" might have been going on. The victim almost always starts off at a disadvantage because the attacker has the initiative. The victim has to first recognize the threat (become aware) and then do something. So, the first significant challenge for any victim of any violent crime is to get up to speed as quickly as possible. To recognize the threat and to wrap your head around the fact that your life is in danger. That's step one, now, on to step two. In the counter-terrorism training they pound one word into your head over and over and over again = "move". It almost doesn't matter what direction - just pick a direction and go (hard). The bad guys have seen their victims freeze on so many occasions they almost count on it to happen. People get the classic "deer in the headlights" syndrome and very often that's what cost's them their lives. They freeze because they see a threat, and they are then dead before they can fully recognize the threat and wrap their head around the fact that they might get killed in less than a second. There are many stories that go something similar to - "the terrorists pulled a truck across the road, forcing the victim to stop their car. Even though the car was hardened with armor plating and bullet proof glass, they paused long enough for the terrorists to shoot the car with an PRG-7 from an elevated position across the road..." If you're moving, at the very least you're a moving target by definition and harder to hit. So, no matter what happens, move, move, move.
"Looking back, I saw the man quickly get into his car and pull out, so fast that we almost backed into each other. It just felt strange." Again, Kristin was not yet trusting her instincts here. By this point, after the "reaching into the car" thing, she should have been 100%, without any doubt, dialed into this guy as a potentially fatal threat. It "just felt strange" = "trust your instincts." The situation felt strange for a reason.
"I kept an eye on him as he followed me down to Via Argentina, then on to Via Espana, then zig zagging through Obarrio, where it became clear that I was DEFINITELTY being followed." Now, Kristin should have understood her life was DEFINITELY in jeopardy. She highlighted this word in her account to add emphasis to the fact that it was not until this point of her ordeal that the lights were finally, fully, and 100% on. This guy was targeting her for something bad, and she had to act.
"He continued to follow me onto Calle 50, all the way to Atlapa, then back around to Niko’s Café in front of Multi Plaza. I was on the phone with my parents making plans as to where I should drive, as I realized that I have NO idea where the police stations are in this town." Good, again. Kristin at this point is now taking actions. She's on the phone, but instead of calling her parents she should have dialed 104 and called the National Police. Everyone should be able to say "secuestro express" and "ayudame" - and then be able to explain to the cops about where you are. Learning where the police stations are is a great idea, and in fact during her drive around Panama City Kristin drove very close to the police stations in Bella Vista and San Francisco without even knowing.
"He pulled up next to me as we slowed for a light. I motioned to him asking why he was following me. His windows were tinted mirror tint, so I could not see in. He ended up ahead of me in the lane next to me. The light turned green and he didn’t go. Cars were honking to him to move, and finally he had to. I, of course took the opportunity to take a right hand turn where he could not and got away and met my parents at Price Mart." Remember, if you're in your car and something like this happens - all bets are off. There simply are no traffic laws applicable to potential kidnapping situations. Your car can be used as a 2,000 pound battering ram. You can drive on the sidewalk and through the damn restaurant if you have to in order to survive and get away. And in this particular phase of the event, I'm thinking "I wonder how many people are actually in the vehicle" since the windows are tinted and mirrored. At this point I'd be pulling out all of the stops to put distance between me and this car, no matter what.
"When we came out, I really felt another car was following me from there, though am not as sure as the other. I was able to get away and lose this car after doing a lap past my apartment. I know many of the guys who are waiting to kidnap women and take them to the cash machines work in teams." Absolutely correct - there's a good chance that the guy in the first car could have "passed the ball" to another guy or group and then bailed out himself. Good job to remain vigilant. Now, don't let your guard down for at least several weeks until this whole event ages out somewhat.
Any Cop In A Pinch: There are private security guards all over town, at practically every large store, restaurant, banks, you name it. Obviously your first and best bet would be to find the first cop you can get your hands on, jump out of your car, point back at the guy who's following you and scream "GET THAT BASTARD!" or something similar. Remember the term "secuestro express" and if you use that, you will get their immediate attention. Lacking a regular cop, and if you need the help, remember the private security guards (but only in a real pinch). They might be more inclined to help a young single female than a crusty old gringo, but that's just the way it is. Remember, you want to get the attention of other people to get help, and this might quickly turn into a full-on survival situation. Here's one - start hitting other cars in traffic and cause such a mess that every one of those people will be grabbing their cell phones simultaneously (to report you for being a nut) but every one of them will get your license plate and a description of your car. If that's the last and only thing you can do before getting kidnapped, then go for it.
This Will Become More Frequent: Please kick your awareness level up at least a couple of notches. This "express kidnapping" stuff is becoming more and more common, and you could become the next victim. Normally it's just an extended robbery, but if it goes bad you could end up hurt or dead. Be safe out there, folks.
Copyright 2009 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.