Patty McGetrick from Tucson, Arizona, had a problem. She had gained the unwanted attention of a man whom she had dated twice and rebuffed. The man, according to McGetrick, had “anger issues.”

Once she cut ties with him, McGetrick said she never responded to his phone messages. She ultimately called the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and a deputy was at her house during some of the threatening phone calls. McGetrick took out a restraining order on a Friday. According to McGetrick, she did everything she could to keep him away but it didn’t help. “He told me he was going to kill me and my children,” McGetrick told News 4 Houston at the time.

On July 15, 1996, the Monday after McGetrick had taken out a restraining order, Dale Scheck carried out his threat. McGetrick was on her way to work when a vehicle pulled up next to her, and the next thing she saw was glass flying everywhere.

At the time she was shot, Scheck had still not been served the restraining order. Twelve hours after the shooting, deputies went to Scheck’s house and found him dead in his van from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They also found 10 other firearms in the house, along with a personal diary. This individual had haunted McGetrick, a single mother of two for five months. During that time, he repeatedly said that he wanted to be with McGetrick despite her not wanting to be with him. In a short time, this stalker had moved from unwanted advances to deadly action.

Warning Signs

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Stalking is conservatively defined by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear.” Stalking also occurs as cyberstalking, which includes the use of technology to stalk victims through email, social media sites, cell phones, texts and other electronic avenues.

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In one NIJ study, interviews with 187 women who had been stalked by former intimate partners showed some startling results. On average, the stalker tended to be younger than his or her victim. Almost two-thirds of the victims had suffered domestic violence in their relationship prior to that with their stalker. The length of stalking ranged between one month and 38 years, with a median of 12 months. The stalking also caused victims added stress, anxiety as well as personal and health issues.

There are certain warning signs to look for if you suspect that you’re being stalked. If a person tends to follow you and shows up wherever you are, and it’s more than just the surprise, that should send up a red flag. Another troubling sign is if you start getting unwanted gifts, letters, cards or e-mails and it persists after you ask them to stop. Victims should also be on the lookout for mysterious damage to their property as well as someone trying to monitor their phone calls or computer use. A stalker can also use hidden cameras or GPS systems to track where you go on your home, car or cell phone. Any action that tries to control, track or frighten you is not okay and you need to seek help.

Taking Control

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The National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) advocates for individuals to prepare a Stalker Safety Plan. It’s always best to practice good situational awareness. Put simply, this is knowing what is going on around you at all times. With good situational awareness, you’ll be constantly taking into account your environment and the people around you.

When it comes to a potential stalker, NCVC advises that one should memorize emergency numbers, and make sure that 911 and helpful family or friends are on speed dial. Treat all threats, direct and indirect, as legitimate and inform law enforcement immediately. Vary your routines, including changing your routes to your home, work and school.

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When you’re out of the house or work environment, try not to travel alone and try to stay in public areas. Get a new, unlisted phone number. Leave the old number active and connected to an answering machine or voicemail. These messages, particularly those that are explicitly abusive or threatening, can be critical evidence for law enforcement to build a stalking case against the offender. Do not interact with the person stalking or harassing you. Consider obtaining a protective order, and if you’re somewhere that doesn’t feel safe, make it safer or leave.

If you are in imminent danger, locate a safe place, like a police station, the house of a family member or friend, a domestic violence shelter, a place of worship or a very public area. Stalking is dangerous, and the best protection is an ounce of prevention. For more information, visit http://www.victimsofcrime.org.

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