A former Oxford woman had a frightening experience while shopping at the Wixom Meijer in early October and she wants to share it as a warning to others.
“It took me a good three weeks to get over this,” said the Oxford High School graduate, who now lives in Livingston County’s Green Oak Township.
She did not wish to be identified, so for the purposes of this story, she will be called “Sally.”
Sally was shopping with two of her children, ages 4 and six months, when she encountered an African-American male.
“He got right next to my cart. He came as close as he could,” she said. “He walked right up to me and said something. I couldn’t hear what (it was). He kind of mumbled. I remember him saying something about ‘today.’”
Sally and this man then stared at each other for a bit and she said he had this “creepy look in his eye.”
The man began following her through the store, all the while continuing to stare at her. He had no shopping cart or basket with him.
“He was clearly not there to shop,” Sally said. “He had nothing.”
Sally went to the baby department and there he was.
“All of a sudden, he’s right behind me,” she said.
She then went to the sporting goods department on the other side of the store and there he was again.
“He was standing right behind me,” Sally said. “He was everywhere I was.”
Sally knew something was wrong.
“I thought he was either going to take me or my kid. I did,” she said. “I just felt like he was after something. He had a look in his eye like I’ve never seen before.”
Sally decided to head for the checkout line.
“I just started walking as fast as I could to get up to the front register. He continued to walk fast behind me,” she said. “I started running to get up there and he was running right behind me.”
She made a “beeline” for the register and told the cashier there was a man following her. When he saw this, he “took off out the front door.”
When store security personnel went outside, the man started running. Wixom Police showed up, stopped him and began questioning him in the parking lot.
In the meantime, Sally called her husband, explained the situation and asked him to come to the store. She then proceeded to pay for her items.
At this point, a second African-American male entered the store.
“He walked in (and was) kind of suspiciously eyeing the whole line of checkout lanes,” Sally said. “Once he caught my eye, he just stood there and stared.”
While this was happening, Sally’s husband and a Meijer security staffer approached her. When she pointed out the second man to them, he immediately left. He jumped in a white minivan sitting in front of the store and took off.
No one was able to get a license plate.
After talking with police, Sally said the first guy was released and took off on foot.
“He never touched me, so they couldn’t do anything,” she explained. “They couldn’t prove intent as to what he was after. At least it’s on file with the Wixom Police.”
“The Wixom police officer (told me), ‘Well, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t think that guy was all there,’” Sally noted. “I don’t think most sane people chase after people in the store.”
Looking back on the situation, Sally is glad she didn’t give into her impulse to simply ditch her shopping cart and immediately leave the store.
“Thank God I didn’t do that because who knows what I would have been walking into,” she said. “If you feel threatened at all, the safest place to be is in the store with other people.”
Oakland County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jen Miles agreed it’s best to remain in the store and call the police from there.
“Don’t go to your car (alone),” she said.
Miles, who has been teaching women’s self-defense classes for the sheriff’s office since 2009, advises women to always be “aware of your surroundings,” which means more than just “looking around.”
“It’s knowing what is out of place in those surroundings, what is abnormal,” she said.
For example, if a guy is standing next to an open and empty trunk, and he has no shopping cart, Miles said it’s a good idea to stay away from him.
“I’m not going to walk past that guy,” she said. “I don’t know what his intentions are. Maybe he’s just standing there. But I don’t want to end up in that trunk.”
“If they are lingering in the parking lot, you need to call us. You need to call the police,” Miles said. “If they are a bad guy, they don’t want to be on our radar.”
If a woman feels like she’s being followed inside the store and wants to confirm it, Miles advises them to “make four consecutive same-way turns” because “you’re going to end up in the same spot.”
“If you turn the same way four consecutive times and the guy follows, he’s following you,” she said.
In this scenario, Miles advises women to seek out a store employee, someone like a manager or loss prevention officer, who can walk away from whatever they’re doing to help.
A store employee can do a number of things such as call the police or walk customers to their vehicles. A loss prevention officer can approach the person who’s allegedly following someone and find out what they’re doing if they’re not shopping.
A woman also has the option to “confront” the person following her, but only if she feels capable of doing so.
That’s what Miles would do and she would “do it in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.”
“I will be a little bit louder than maybe I normally would be,” she explained. “(I will) probably be a little bit less polite than maybe I would on a normal occasion.”
Miles wants that person to be “perfectly aware” that she knows they’re there, she knows what they look like and she knows what they’re wearing.
She will say something like, “You don’t need to follow me. I see your black coat.”
“Basically, call them out,” she said.
Ultimately, Miles said bad guys don’t want to be noticed or draw attention to themselves.
Women can’t worry about being perceived as “rude” when their safety is potentially at risk. “If he’s not doing anything, who cares? So you offended somebody? Who cares? You’re safe,” Miles said.
When confronting someone, Miles advises women to be “blunt” and look directly at them, but don’t say anything that might prompt a response such as asking about the weather.
“We’re not looking to start up a dialogue,” she said.