When I saw the headline “Woman Killed Would-Be Rapist in Self-Defense,” I thought, “Wow, another story of a gun-owning woman saving her own life.” I was completely wrong. The only gun in this story belonged to the rapist.

The woman, who wants to go by the name “Mira,” was always conscious of the need for self-protection. A family member had been raped, and Mira grew up knowing that women were vulnerable to this particular crime. The women in her family weren’t shrinking violets, but were strong, spirited professionals who taught Mira to stand up for herself, verbally and physically. She always had the attitude, “I’d rather be dead than raped.”

After she married, Mira and her husband decided to learn a martial art, and found a dojo where they studied jujitsu together 2 or 3 times a week for about 6 months. That increased Mira’s confidence, and reduced her fear. By then, Mira was pregnant, and the rough and tumble martial art was not good for her. She always intended to go back to the dojo someday, but life got even busier after her son was born.

By the summer of 2002, Mira was 31 years old, working as a bookkeeper, divorced and sharing custody of her 4-year-old boy. She looked carefully for a home, and arranged to purchase a house in a family-oriented middle class suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico. She passed up several less expensive neighborhoods because she didn’t consider them safe enough.

Moving into a new home is a hectic time, and there was a lot to be done. For the first few weeks, workmen were coming and going a lot, and had a key to the house. Mira’s father was helping her settle in. They planned to change the locks just as soon as the workmen were finished.

Mira purchased a chain lock for the door that her father was to install. She tried to do it herself, but didn’t have the right tools. She tested the pet door, however, and when she found it impossible to put her 5’6″, 135 lb frame through it, thought it safe enough from intruders. As suggested by many home safety experts, she took the precaution of wedging a piece of broomstick in the track of her glass sliding door.

Two weeks after she moved into her new home, July 19, 2002 was a Friday night, and Mira’s son was visiting his father. It was a typical evening. She took a walk, rented a video and watched it, did her laundry, and went to sleep around 11:30, wearing a t-shirt and underwear. She had heard that there are more rapes on summer nights because of open windows, so hers were closed, and a box fan in the hallway tried to circulate air for coolness.

Shortly after 1 A.M., Mira was abruptly awakened. She saw a man on top of her on the bed, wearing jogging clothes and a pantyhose mask, and shining a flashlight in her eyes! Panic immediately clutched her chest. She tried to yell, “Get off me!” but it came out almost in a whisper. “Don’t say anything,” he ordered, but she kept insisting, “Get off me!” as she tried to push or kick him away.

He was trying to press her back into the bed, and he told her that he had a gun. Then she saw it in his other hand. With a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other, he had to turn them sideways so that he could push her chest down with both his hands.

Her first thought was, “I’ve got to get that gun away from me,” so she grabbed the gun barrel to keep him from pointing it at her. Her second thought was, “I’ve got to try to shoot him!” She tried to push the barrel towards him.

Meanwhile, Michael Magirl continued the process that had worked so well on the other women he had raped. He had prepared for this one like he had prepared for the others – he had a rape kit with him that included duct tape and leather gloves, and in his car, parked a few blocks away, he had handcuffs, knives, binoculars, a pillow case, and other rape paraphernalia. This 51-year-old criminal had prior convictions for attempted sodomy, unlawful sexual penetration, and more than 30 burglaries. He received a 32-year sentence, served half of it, and had been released on good behavior a year and a half earlier. He was not on parole, so nobody was monitoring him. He was a registered sex offender in New Mexico, though he did not live anywhere near Mira. He had gotten into her house by prying the sliding door open, despite its broomstick.

To get this struggling woman under control, Magril threatened, “Do you want to die?” At that moment, something in Mira snapped, and she knew that the answer was NO and that the way to ensure that was to accept the risk and fight even harder.

She remembered a move from her martial arts class. Plant one foot down, put one foot on his hip, kick him off in the direction of your foot that is planted. Still holding on to the gun, she did just that. It worked perfectly – his 175-pound frame rolled off the bed onto the floor. She doesn’t remember precisely how the gun got into her hand, but there it was!

Before he could recover from his fall, she pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger 3 times. It sounded unreal – pop, pop, pop – instead of bang, bang bang. Mira was experiencing the auditory exclusion that affects 88% of people in moments of life-and-death stress, but she knew nothing of that process, and her brain interpreted the unexpected lack of sound as meaning that the gun was not real, just a toy.

Mira looked at her attacker, wedged between her bed, wall, and floor. In the dark, she didn’t notice any blood, which confirmed her notion that the gun was not real. She reached out and tore off the stocking mask he wore, and knew for sure that she had never seen him before. He looked at her, his eyes dazed, with a somewhat surprised expression on his face. Definitely alive.

Mira assumed that he had merely been stunned by the fall, and not hurt at all by the toy gun. She knew that as soon as he recovered, which could be a matter of seconds, he would come after her again. She had to get out of there! With the gun still in her hand, she raced to the front door, unlocked it, ran into the street, and started yelling, sure that he was right behind her.

The folks next door hadn’t met the new neighbor yet, but they heard her screaming that a man in her house was trying to rape her, and the look of terror on Mira’s face immediately convinced them that she needed help. They brought her into their home, let her put the gun on their coffee table, and helped her call 911.

While waiting for the police to arrive, Mira chattered on in the way most people do after a close brush with death. “It’s a good thing that isn’t a real gun, or someone would have gotten hurt,” she said at one point. Her neighbor looked closely at the object on his coffee table. “That is a real gun,” he told her, “It says Smith&Wesson right here on the side.” The revolver began to look like a real gun again. Mira began to realize that she had shot her attacker after all.

When the police arrived, they were very respectful to Mira, briefly listening to her story, and then letting her sit in the police cruiser until the ambulance and detectives arrived. Detective Frank Flores found Mira in a “state of disbelief” about what had happened, but very cooperative with the police.

Mira saw an ambulance leave without anybody being put into it. “Is he alive?” she asked, and was told that he was not. Two of Mira’s three shots from the .38 Special had stuck him, one in the upper chest, severing his aorta, and one in his arm. He had managed to crawl from the bedroom to the hallway, where he died. Having heard stories of people who went to prison for killing in self-defense, Mira was afraid that was in store for her, but the detectives eventually reassured her that she would not be arrested, as it was clearly a case of justifiable homicide.

She was taken to a hospital, where evidence such as fingernail scrapings was collected, and then to the police station, where she went through her story again in an official report. She was finally free by 5 P.M., but she didn’t go home, not for a long time.

The first night she tried to sleep, she reported, “Every time I closed my eyes, there was a man on top of me.” The next 3 weeks she spent with her father and friends, until her house was ready for her and she was ready to gradually face that place again. She stayed in her home for gradually longer periods of time, with and without friends there, and in about 6 weeks, the worst of the trauma was over and she could spend the night alone.

Since that incident, Mira has talked to a lot of people about what happened to her. From a therapist, to ABV-TV’s Good Morning America show, to various community groups, she is willing to tell her story. “Healing is talking about it,” she asserts, “The more you can talk about it, the less power it has over your life.” She will be speaking at a local rape crisis group soon. She wants to tell them, “Whatever the outcome of an attack, you can let yourself not be a victim by the way you respond.”

The DNA evidence from Michael Magril may yet link him to multiple other attacks he made since his release from prison, including one woman he abducted, raped, and threatened to kill just two weeks prior to the attack on Mira.

Nobody will ever know why Michael Magirl picked Mira as his intended victim that night. He wasn’t associated with any of the workers who had been in her home, and no other link has been found. Perhaps he saw her when she was out walking, and followed her home, then waited for the best time to strike. Perhaps he was cruising the neighborhood, and picked her house at random. Mira doesn’t let it worry her, and doesn’t think about that part of the past. She is focussed on the future.

Mira has made many changes in her life since the incident, but she would not let this experience force her from her home. She has more secure doors and windows now, and an alarm system, and a dog. She is much more aware of people, cars, and other things around her. She is studying martial arts again. At first, she tended to be overly aggressive, treating each training fight as if it were real, but then she learned how to be effective without going over the top. She has a reputation in her dojo as ” a real scrapper.”

One more thing. She now goes to the range from time to time with her father – to shoot. She’s not ready to have a gun in her house yet, but that may happen in time, as she learns more about firearms and how to keep them safely in a home with children. Firing a gun at the range for the first time was something she forced herself do, to push her threshold to see if it bothered her. It didn’t.

There are always many “what ifs” that occupy the thoughts after a situation like this one. Usually the question is, “What if he had a gun?” but in this case, what I asked was “What if he didn’t have a gun?” Mira thought for a lengthy moment, and replied sincerely, “It would have been a long, tough fight.”

What are the lessons here?

First and foremost, the will to win is vital! Mira’s determination to fight back was absolutely essential to her victory, and to her rapid recovery after the attack.

Physical fighting skills complement, but don’t replace, gun skills. Even if she had owned a firearm for defense, Mira would have had to win a physical fight before she could have accessed the gun. Fighting skills are not as perishable as firearms skills; even if not practiced for several years, they can come back when needed. Though she had never explicitly been taught how to disarm a person with a weapon, Mira knew instinctively that it was essential to keep the muzzle pointed away from her body.

I’ve said it before in this column, but it always bears repeating. Just because someone has a gun doesn’t mean you have to do what he says! Make your own escape plan, and then do it! He may very well be unwilling or unable to shoot you. Mira’s experience shows that it is possible to be victorious even in a situation that starts out as bad as it could possibly be. Her willingness to grab the gun and fight for her life enabled her to turn the tables and stop, forever, one of the major sex offenders in her state.

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns May-June 2003, Copyright © 2003, Lyn Bates