‘Blessed to be alive’

Published 9:18 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

I first met Lisa when we she was 11. She biked up our long gravel driveway, removed herself from a faded banana seat, and promptly announced that her mother said we should be friends (and to get home before supper).

Lisa was the skinniest, most freckled girl I had ever seen. I liked her immediately.

Thus began a relationship that would carry us through typical teenage drama involving canvas Nikes, Shaun Cassidy, feathered bangs and my brother’s Cutlass Supreme – unscathed, for the most part. We also survived extended orthodontic treatments (complete with headgear) and a prom to which her date wore a baby blue tux. At least I think it was blue. All photographic proof of that event has since been destroyed.

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Sometime during the college years that elusive thing so long beyond our grasp – adulthood – came upon us suddenly in waves of bridal luncheons and baby showers, and then as a full-force tsunami during a sad season of widowhood.

We grew up, we grew older. Lisa’s has been the longest-lasting friendship of my life.

So when she texted me something about seven new bullet holes in her Hyundai, I let go of the to-do list and found time to make a call I’d been meaning to make for weeks. What I learned was the stuff of an online news story link. Seriously.

It seems that Lisa’s husband was in the market for a used truck, a specific kind to haul his specific stuff. He’d done his homework concerning one he found on Craigslist – he knew the Kelley Blue Book value, asked the right questions, took his place in a group of would-be buyers. So when he and Lisa left home on a beautiful Thursday afternoon last February to go check out the 2010 Chevy, they were pretty confident the sale would go through and they’d return with a new addition to the garage. They were, in fact, thick-envelope-filled-with-a-wad-of-cash confident.

“I had a feeling something was odd when the GPS address didn’t match up with the upscale area listed in the ad,” Lisa told me. “The neighborhood it took us to looked fine, though. When we pulled into the driveway, there was an American flag on the mailbox and a POW tag on the car in the garage. The woman answering our calls was grandmotherly and knew all about the truck (which she said had belonged to her dear husband). Everything seemed legitimate.”

But it wasn’t. The couple was being watched, and a few minutes later a group of men wearing dark-colored hoodies approached them with guns: two on the driver’s side, and one targeting Lisa and the envelope under her floor mat.

In broad daylight.

In a decent neighborhood.

The ones aiming at her husband had covered their faces. Not so on the passenger side. “He looked like a kid,” Lisa recalled, describing the robber. On the other side of the car, Lisa’s husband was kicking at his assailants and reaching for the accelerator with his hand. He eventually found it and a chance to get away.

Later that night television news reports would show video footage of those moments captured by a surveillance camera that just happened to be located on the eaves of a front porch in the neighborhood. It captured audio, too — squealing tires and 11 gun shots that sounded like firecrackers on the Fourth of July.

Another scene of interest that wasn’t taped took place during interviews with the police. Something surprising showed up in the floorboard – an AK-47 belonging to one of the attackers. The police were delighted with the piece of evidence. For Lisa and her husband, who had no recollection of knocking it from anyone’s hands, the gun was just further proof their lives had been graciously spared.

Weeks later the criminals behind the Craigslist scam would attempt the setup once again. This time the victims, rather than their car, took the bullets. It wasn’t long before Lisa was at a police lineup where she identified the baby-faced teenager who had stolen their $16,000 and their peace of mind (temporarily).

Lisa told me she is sleeping better now but still reacts at the sight of a young man in a hoodie. And although the exterior of their car has been repaired, a vivid reminder of their close call remains in the interior upholstery where a bullet ricocheted off a metal bar right behind the driver’s seat. She and her husband are eager to share a message, one they learned the hard way: “When you’re buying from Craigslist or from any stranger, go to a police station or some site where there are cameras and you feel protected. We’re blessed to be alive.”

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.