Like most people, James Dittrich had horrible situational awareness.
He’d walked his dog and was returning up the stairs to his third floor apartment, and the two thugs were on him in the stairwell before he knew what was going on. They robbed him of his wallet, and forced him into his apartment at gunpoint, where his fiance was sleeping.
Dettrich—finally clued into the fact that he put his fiance, Meredith Duffy in great danger—went after the gun, hoping to give Duffy a chance to call 911:
So I reached up and I grabbed [the gun],” Dittrich said. “I couldn’t wrestle it free, but I knew, with both hands on it, I had control of it, and that was the opportunity that she needed to call. And I just, I really just hoped I could keep control of it for her to make that call.”
But when Dittrich grabbed the gun, the burglars attacked him, he said. As her fiance was beaten in front of her, Duffy was able to call for help.
“That was the absolute hardest part, was that when I dialed 911, they were just beating him so absolutely mercilessly and brutally,” she said. “And the one kept yelling, ‘Shoot him, shoot him, shoot him.'”
In the end, the attackers fled, but not before breaking Dittrich’ nose, both cheekbones, and the bones around one of his eye sockets. Both Dittrich and Duffy were rushed to the emergency room at University Hospital in Newark, where the drama of their horrific ordeal and resulting injuries happened to be captured on ABC’s medical docu-series “NY Med,” which airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET.
Dr. Hugo Razo, the emergency room physician who treated Dittrich, told him that night, “You’re a hero. You’re an American hero.”
The couple are convinced that fighting back saved Duffy from being raped, and saved both of their lives that night.
I’d argue instead that Dittrich put Duffy and himself in that situation because he was blissfully unaware of his surroundings. He didn’t see the two men outside the building, as they were attempting to select a victim. He didn’t make eye contact, which most likely would have cued them to leave him alone.
The two men, noticing that Dettrich was blissfully clueless of his surroundings, followed him into his building and up three flights of stairs. It wasn’t until Dettrich had his keys out that he was bum-rushed at his door, and only then finally realized he was under attack.
Dittrich then put his Duffy in danger of being raped and murdered by letting the robbers into the apartment.
His later “heroic” attempt to grab the gun was a desperation move after poor situational awareness and a grave misjudgment of the intentions of the robbers finally forced him to act, or watch his fiance be raped and perhaps murdered in front of his eyes.
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Dettrich and Duffy changed several things as a result of the attack. The first thing they did was leave New Jersey (always a smart move). One of the other things was that they re-thought their stance on firearms ownership and self-defense.
They feel safer in Ohio, they said, adding that their experience drastically changed them and their views on a number of issues, including gun control. Before, both didn’t feel the need to own a gun. Now, they are proud gun owners and keep a handgun in the bedroom.
“I didn’t want a gun. I specifically didn’t want one,” Dittrich said. “I was very much opposed to hav[ing] one, and I guess I got the realization that the police really can’t protect you. They can respond, and they can protect you once they get there. But, you’re on your own.”
It’s quite sad that Dittrich and Duffy lacked any sense of awareness before the attack. Had Dettrich simply been aware of his surroundings and made eye contact with the criminals when he went by them, there is a good chance that they would have passed on selecting him as a victim.
I hope that in addition to purchasing firearms the couple has opted to find a good trainer in their area who can teach them not just marksmanship, but also situational awareness and movement.
Owning a firearm is a great step towards being prepared for self-defense, but in the end, it is only a tool, and it is the skill and capability of the person wielding the tool that determines how effectively it will be used, or even if it has to be used at all.