The little town of Indialantic, Florida sits southeast of Orlando, on an island about 35 miles long, and wide enough for about half a dozen streets. One side of the island faces the Atlantic Ocean, the other side the Indian River, hence the town’s unique name. There are only a few main roads on and off the island, so it isn’t a place most criminals would choose for breaking into a house, if they wanted a good getaway route. Don’t be surprised if you have never heard of Indialantic; the population is barely over 3,000 people.
So why, in this tiny town, was Judith Kuntz’s home targeted on May 29, 2005?
Judith was a 66-yr old widow living alone in the home she had occupied for nearly 15 years. On this Sunday night at 10:30 she was already asleep when she heard someone breaking in. It was not a stealthy entrance. The intruder was making no attempt to be quiet as he plowed through some possessions that were piled up near her back door. The resulting “BAM!” shook the whole house.
With excellent and fortuitous forethought, Judith had thought about what she would do in various emergencies, so she had a plan for this one. Without turning on a light, she reached for her gun. The Rossi .38 revolver, loaded with HydraShok ammo, had been her mother’s self-defense gun, originally, but Judith acquired it after her mother’s death. Both women had licenses to carry in Florida. (I like this family!)
Additionally, Judith’s brother had taught her some valuable lessons about self-defense. He talked to her about what to do if anyone ever threatened her life. He taught her about using cover in her home. Most importantly, he made her role-play a breakin. When he asked why she didn’t “shoot” him when he was playing the bad guy, she said, “Because you weren’t close enough,” They did another role-play, and her brother demonstrated how quickly he could rush across a room to reach her. Judith probably never heard of the Tueller drill or the 21-foot rule, but she learned that any attacker in the same room with her was “close enough” to need shooting.
She never forgot that lesson, and with a real crisis in her home, she instantly went into action. She got her gun and took cover behind her bed. The intruder turned on her kitchen light, which back lighted him from Judith’s ensconced position. He had a flashlight in one hand, but she could not see whether he had a gun or a knife. There was no time to call the police, no chance to escape, no reason to scream, no option other than to protect herself in the only way she could. He came to the door of her bedroom, about 10 feet from her. Without hesitation, she pulled the trigger, once. Her aim was true, and the bullet struck him in the chest. He made a loud sound, turned, staggered out of the house the way he had come in, collapsed and died.
Judith, still in her bedroom, didn’t know that he was dead. She thought he might not have been alone, and for a few minutes she sat in the dark, straining every sense to detect another person in the house. When she first tried to call 911, the lack of light, the absence of her glasses, and her shaking hands prevented her from dialing the phone, but eventually she was able to make the call. When the authorities arrived, they immediately identified the situation as justified self-defense. Judith was never arrested or charged with any crime.
The big mystery was, who was the guy she shot? She didn’t recognize him, nor did the police. He carried no ID. The media circulated a description they hoped would help someone identify him: “He had dark brown hair, a dark brown mustache and was wearing a dark blue Champion T-shirt, light blue swim shorts and tennis shoes. He also had a tattoo of a cross on his right hand, between his index finger and thumb. He also had tattoos of a Harley-Davidson on one arm and of several female names on his other arm.”
While waiting for the victim to be identified, the country sheriff’s office praised Judith’s actions. Agent Lou Heyn of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office was quoted as saying, “The bottom line is that when somebody enters your home like that, it’s self-defense. Breaking into the house obviously shows some intent.” Break-ins at night, when the resident is known to be home, are often very violent crimes, with the interloper expecting or even relishing a confrontation. Judith had been home all day, and her car was plainly in the driveway, so her attacker must have known that someone was in the house.
Florida law has always allowed people to defend themselves in their home or car, and recently that law was amended to allow citizens to “meet force with force” virtually anywhere.
A few days after the shooting, the identity of the intruder was finally determined by fingerprints run through an FBI database. He was Jason Lewis Preston, 33 years old, of Eaton Rapids, Michigan. He had served time there for breaking and entering, and for aggravated assault with a firearm. What was he doing in Indialantic? He had arrived the previous week to visit a cousin who lives a few blocks from Judith. He might have been on vacation, or he might have been avoiding a warrant for domestic violence that the Michigan police were in the process of obtaining. He was angry because his wife had told him she was living with another man. He was high on pot and alcohol when he died.
Preston had at least 2 prior convictions for felony assault, and one for failure to pay child support. He had recently completed probation. Serving time apparently did not convince him to give up B&E. He told his relatives that in Florida he was “just going to make a little money, maybe do some odd jobs.” Maybe he thought stealing from Judith would pay better than the kind of odd jobs he could get. He was dead wrong.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Judith got a lot of support from her family, her neighbors, and the police. She was astonished, and appalled at the media circus that formed outside her home. To avoid them, she had to leave her home for several days. Fortunately, the media immediately picked up on the self-defense aspect of the situation. The psychological trauma that some people experience after shooting someone passed Judith by. Two years later, she is still absolutely sure that she did the only thing she could have done.
What are some of the lessons we can learn from Judith’s experience?
Even places with low crime rates and geography that discourages criminals can have major crimes. All your neighbors for miles around might be fine, upstanding, lawful people, but what about all the people who might visit them? You can’t assume they will all be harmless. All it takes is one visitor, like Preston, with bad intent who decides to try to take advantage of the moment.
A home invasion by an unknown person is quite rare, but it does happen. Just ask Judith. You need to be prepared to defend yourself when the totally unexpected actually happens. Having a plan for how to react makes a huge difference in the outcome.
Age is no barrier to successful firearms use. Senior citizens may not be able to use many of the defense methods that are available to younger folk, such as running and physically fighting back, but the skills needed to operate a firearm usually remain for a very long time..
Judith doesn’t seek the spotlight. She doesn’t like to be called a hero. “I don’t care about getting attention for what happened,” she told me. “I just want to encourage other women to put that gun in their hand and learn how to shoot.” As a nurse and a grandmother of 5, caring for other people is a big part of this woman’s self-image. But so is self-reliance and self-defense. “I will go down fighting,” she says, “whether I have a gun or not.” We can all benefit from that determined spirit, as well as a little bit of training and preparation.
This article was reprinted from Women&Guns July-August, 2007, Copyright © 2007, Lyn Bates