Susan Gaylord Buxton is a 66 year old freelance artist who works out of a studio in her home in Arlington Texas. She has been a courtroom illustrator, and a newspaper cartoonist. When a council of hospitals wanted to honor some of its members, they hired Susan to produce pictures of several of the executives. One of those portraits in pencil, ink and paint, shows a man on his favorite horse, proving that she can do what many artists can’t: capture both people and animals effectively. Her portfolio includes pictures of celebs such as Buzz Aldrin, Newt Gingrich, and Frank Abagnale (the former con artist who now works with the FBI).
Susan is spirited and adventuresome. She’s driven a race car at 138 mph, and loves to operate a tractor on the family hay field, Susan’s talents and enthusiasm extend to raising a family. She has 4 children, now grown, and 11 grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to 28. They call their grandmother GiGi.
Living in Texas, she was never afraid of guns, but didn’t own one, either, until a dozen years ago when a couple of men almost abducted her 6 year old granddaughter from her front yard. The child was not hurt, but Susan knew she needed protection. With all the proper licensing, training and waiting period, she purchased a Smith&Wesson Chief Special .38 Special caliber revolver, with a barrel just under 2 inches. It is an Airweight, one of that generation of guns to be made lighter by the use of an aluminum alloy. She always kept it loaded with an excellent self-defense ammo, Federal Hydra-Shok jacketed hollowpoint rounds, except when she was practicing with less expensive ammo. As soon as Texas passed a concealed carry law, she took the required class and upgraded her license. The little J-frame fits nicely in her gun purse specially designed for concealed carry, and she appreciates the light weight of the alloy gun. The gun stays either in her purse or on her night stand.
Susan’s sister, Judy, is a Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve, and an excellent shooter. She took Susan to the range and taught her to shoot. When Susan flinched, Judy gave her dry fire exercises to do to correct the problem. Susan thought she’d never shoot as well as Judy, but she also knew that she shot well enough to be completely confident with her gun, and she had no trouble passing the proficiency test that is required for a CCW license in Texas.
On the night of Wednesday, November 9, 2005, Susan and her granddaughter Mandy, 28, were alone in the house. It was getting late, about 12:30 a.m., when Susan decided to let her dog out. As was her custom, she took her gun with her, in case they encountered any of the coyotes that sometimes inhabited the wild land near the creek that ran in back of the house.
When she went outside, she noticed a muddy footprint on the porch. Mandy reported that she had just heard glass breaking. Susan immediately told Mandy to get on the phone and call 911. Gun in hand, Susan began searching her home, clearing each room and closet as she came to it. In the very last closet, as she held the gun in her right hand and opened the door with her left, she found a man inside trying to hide under one of the coats. She pulled the coat away, and saw a young man, 22, over 6 feet tall, bare chested, buff, with tattoos, in gray sweat pants.
If he had leapt out of the closet at her, Susan would have had no choice but to shoot him in the chest as she had been taught. That probably would have killed him, and she was perfectly willing to do that if necessary to protect herself and Mandy. However, he came out of the closet compliantly, so Susan didn’t shoot, but she didn’t let her guard down, either, as she switched to a steadier two-handed hold on the gun.
Susan knew how she wanted to control the situation until the police arrived. She ordered him to lie down on the floor. He didn’t obey. She repeated her command several times, to no effect. She told Mandy, “Get the police out here, or this is it for him.”
Mandy was having her own trouble with the 911 operator, who kept asking questions like “Did he get into the house?” after already being told he was inside, and saying “Don’t shoot him,” although she had no knowledge of what was going on at that moment. The police were dispatched promptly, and would take only 7 minutes to arrive, but to Susan and Mandy, that would feel like 7 hours. Susan kept up her barrage of verbal commands, interspersed with comments like, “How dare you come into my house, you lousy (expletive)!”
Christopher Lessner, the intruder, had a plan of his own. He thought he could grab her gun, then run out the door and escape. He probably waited for an opening, and made his move. When he tried to seize the gun, Susan was ready. She shot him before he could get her gun. She shot him in the thigh, deliberately, she says, because at that point she wanted to stop him, not kill him, even though she understood that a lethal shot would have been justified.
“Ow, you shot me,” Lessner screamed in surprise. Wounded, he decided to execute the second part of his plan, opened the door, and managed to get out.
Susan, still trying to make him stop until the police could get there, fired a second shot. She fired into the air above his head, not wanting to shoot him in the back. Instead of making him stop, however, it impelled him to keep moving. “He got away, damn it,” Susan yelled, totally exasperated.
The police arrived in time to hear that second shot. It took a 3-hour search to find Lessner, who was hiding at a nearby house. His wound was not life-threatening. He now faces charges of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, evading arrest, criminal mischief and criminal trespass. Susan was never arrested, as it was clear from the start that she had acted properly, in self-defense.
Who was Christopher Lessner, and why was he in Susan’s house? He was a 22 year old fugitive who had stolen a black Chevrolet pickup earlier that night and tried to avoid a speeding ticket by engaging in a hot pursuit with police. He abandoned the car, and ran through a wooded area (the woods near Susan’s home) looking for a place to hide. He failed to get in through a window he broke so he forced her back door. Why did he pick her house? Nobody has any idea. “It is a good thing he didn’t pick my neighbor,” Susan said. “She lives alone, and didn’t have a gun. I think she might be getting one now, though.”
Are you concerned that someone might try to grab a gun from you? Whenever you hear anyone express this fear, explain that it just doesn’t happen. Guns are not grabbed from women who are prepared and willing to shoot. Susan is living proof of that.
Susan has gotten a lot of attention from media as diverse as her local Texas State Rifle Association and the national Montel Williams Show. Her grandkids think their GiGi is awesome! She’s determined, articulate and has no trouble talking about what happened, or what might have happened. “I want to talk to everyone about this,” she says in a positive tone that makes you smile just to hear it.
Lessner will doubtless serve prison time, but perhaps one of the most difficult burdens he will face is going through life being known as the man who was shot by a Gun Totin’ Granny 3 times his own age.
This article was reprinted from Women&Guns May-Jun, 2006, Copyright © 2006, Lyn Bates