Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Sarasota woman takes aim at her fears

Somebody came to my door, and I didn't answer it because I was getting dressed. And then a couple of minutes later I heard the sound of glass breaking in my breakfast room. And I grabbed my gun, and he started to step in.

The hero of the story is sobbing. Under the circumstances, that's not unusual.

It is early on a Saturday evening, and that is how she described a break-in to a 911 dispatcher. She is breathing heavily, as if her lungs are racing to keep pace with her heart.

For six excruciating minutes, the 59-year-old woman answers the dispatcher's questions and waits for deputies to arrive in her well-to-do Sarasota neighborhood. The intruder, she tells the dispatcher, was wearing a bandana around his face. He was young. He drove a white SUV with a Buccaneers license plate.

Later, she will explain that he didn't get in right away. She first heard a loud thump, and that's when she began to walk to the back door. Another thump followed. On the third whack, the glass gave way, and he began climbing through the opening.

That's when she lifted her .38-caliber handgun and fired twice.

Please send somebody out, I'm scared to death.

The gun was nothing more than a security blanket. Reassurance for that one-in-a-million chance she would ever find herself in a life-or-death situation.

She never seriously considered owning one until a Halloween night a few years ago when someone with a stocking over his face showed up at her front door at 11:30.

So soon afterward she signed up for some gun safety classes, and began practicing at local target ranges. And all the while, she honestly wondered whether she would ever be able to aim a weapon at another human being.

"The idea that I might have to injure another person with a gun is not a scenario I ever wanted to find myself in,'' she said in an interview Thursday. "That's not who I am. That's not how I want people to think about me. I want people to think of me as a great mom, as a great grandmother.

"I want people to think of me as a good woman with a good heart.''

For the longest time that is exactly who Jane Fitzgibbons has been.

So how was she supposed to react when she emerged as the victor in a battle she had desperately hoped to avoid?

He may have been injured. I pray to the dear Lord that I haven't hurt someone. … I'm so sorry. I would never hurt someone, but I was fearful for my life.

He yelled after she fired. And then he ran.

He got in his SUV and spun his tires heading out of the neighborhood.

She wasn't sure if she had hit him.

She wasn't sure if he was carrying a weapon.

All she knew in those first frantic minutes is that her gun was the only thing standing between her and a criminal breaking into her home.

"It seems so surreal now,'' she said. "This is the kind of thing you see in the movies or on TV or you read about in the paper.

"I honestly want to put this behind me. I don't want to dwell on it, and I'm not going to let it change my life. But I do think it's an important story to tell. Hopefully it can empower other women and help them understand that they can protect themselves.

"I am very grateful I owned a gun and had been trained to use it. It saved my life.''

Less than 48 hours after the break-in on July 7, a 26-year-old suspect was arrested when he went to Sarasota Memorial Hospital for treatment for a gunshot wound to the arm.

The Sarasota Sheriff's Office would end up linking him to five previous burglaries, and recovered more than 100 stolen items from his residence.

I'm sorry to be so upset, but this has never happened to me, and God forbid it ever happens again.

The street is quiet now. The TV crews have little to show for their effort, and the neighbors have retreated behind closed doors.

Deputies and detectives have stopped by to check on her, but otherwise life has returned to a familiar routine.

Still, in a state wrestling with the ramifications of the "stand your ground'' law, and in an age when Second Amendment debates are used as a political wedge, the story of a semiretired single woman wounding a burglar has some resonance.

Is it a story of courage? Of fear? Does it speak more to the necessity of gun ownership, or the deterioration of society?

And how does our hero feel about what happened?

As you might guess, it is not easy to put into words. She is still bothered by the incident but not her role in it.

She doesn't want to be applauded as a gun-toting grandmother, but there is a sense of pride in being able to defend herself.

And then there is this:

Once her 29-year-old daughter got over the shock of mom shooting a masked intruder, she headed to a gun range to begin taking her own lessons.

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