When you work in any profession there is always the chance that you can run into some type of dangerous situation, whether it is an accident which could cause injury and sometimes even death or there is a possibility that you could have a run-in with a dangerous and mentally unstable person who is looking for someone to take his anger out on. Normally this applies to high-risk occupations like police work, construction and so on. And as I learned one night in 2007, retail is no exception.
It was a cold February night in 2007 while I was still working on the overnight shift at the Wal-Mart in Herkimer, New York. That night I went into work thinking that it was going to be another normal night of stocking freight to the sales floor so that customers could buy them. At that time I was assigned to the Electronics department even though as an overnight stocker I was expected to go wherever they needed me to stock. And on overnights, you usually have a more colorful group of characters that come into the store. There are the kind that are usually drunk and on their way home from the bar. You also got college students coming in and occasionally cause trouble with shoplifting and running around the store as though they are still in kindergarten. There was even one time around Halloween in 2005 where a local bar had a “hoe and pimp” costume contest and when that got out you had a group of young women coming into the store dressed only in lingerie.
However, for the purpose of this story I am going to focus on that one particular incident that happened that night in February 2007.
Also at that time, I had been blogging for about a year and was in the process of writing a book about the Chester Gillette case at the Herkimer County Historical Society, both of which I had been heavily involved in. I was also starting to use the computers up at the college to go on Myspace back when Myspace was a thing. In fact, I was planning to go back to the Historical Society to work on my book the week after Valentine’s Day and also after my twenty-ninth birthday. Unfortunately, those plans would be unceremoniously thwarted for the worst possible reason.
When I first got up that night, I was feeling a little nauseous and I was debating whether or not to call in that night. Eventually the nausea went away and I ended up going into work. Maybe if I really was sick and called in, I would not be writing this story right now.
The first half of that night was going okay and it was around two in the morning which was when I normally went to lunch. While I was going towards the shoe department, I realized that maintenance was waxing over by those doors that night so I had to go back and go through the doors over by Electronics. I was not really paying attention as I was passing the Photo Lab because all I was thinking about was going to lunch.
And that was when I was hit in the back by a guy with a metal baseball bat that he took out of Sporting Goods. I did not even have enough time to react but then he kept swinging and backed me right into the Photo Lab. I put my right hand up to block and then he swung again, hitting my right hand. I screamed at him and he stood there for a second with a crazed look in his eye. Then he threw the bat and ran.
The attack was completely unprovoked and I have had no dealings with the person before that. Other associates who were on overnights doing mod changes witnessed my attack and chased him out into the parking lot. During the chase, one of the associates called the police and once he got on the other side of the fence the Herkimer Police Department got there in time and he was arrested very quickly.
Then the cops came into the store to get a statement from me and then they took me in the back where the police cars pulled up so I could identify the guy. Then the cops took photos of my injuries and the scene of the attack. After that I ended up going to the hospital where I was x-rayed. The doctors thought I had a little crack on my right ring finger but otherwise I had no broken bones or fractures. My luck as far as never having any broken bones was still holding. Still I ended up wearing a splint for a week and I had to put an ice pack on my back for a couple of days.
Even though I went home from work after I returned from the hospital with a side trip to the police station to drop off my doctor’s report, the doctors said that I didn’t have to miss any work. I also had to take a drug test which is mandatory for Walmart associates who have been injured on the job. Then I had to get forms from Bassett Health Care in Herkimer. And in all that time I was still debating about whether or not to tell my family. They found out eventually and they weren’t mad that I didn’t tell them right away because it was obvious why. I did not want to worry them.
And so I spent the last couple of weeks on light duty at work which was basically doing break packs, returns and zoning various departments. It was pretty annoying not to be able to do my full job, at least partially.
Then I went back to Bassett where I was examined. I was able to get my splint off and was x-rayed again. The doctor said that I had to remain on light duty at work for at least another two weeks. Or so I thought. I had to get a doctor’s note before I could return to full duty which took about a month to get.
As a result of my ordeal, I could not blog on my site for at least a week because my right hand was still hurting and I was worried that using a computer would aggravate it more. I also had to take more time off of my book at the Historical Society which set me back a lot. Thankfully, it was only for about a week. After I got the splint off, I blogged about my ordeal. But other than that I had to take it easy for a bit.
During my recovery process, I did feel like I was suffering from a temporary moment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder where I kind of burst out in rage which I thought was natural considering that something like this has never happened to me before or since then. Sure, I have dealt with bullies in school when I was a kid, but nothing that would lead someone to nearly kill me with a weapon. He probably would have had he aimed at my head and there was also the fact that there were other associates around that saw him attack me.
And then a strange thing happened. To this day, I am not sure if it was the shock I still felt or whether it was the ibuprofen talking, but I had visions of a young woman holding my hand and telling that everything would be all right. Call me crazy, but I swear to god that this is the truth.
In the weeks that followed and I slowly recovered, I went to tell my story to the Grand Jury so that the District Attorney could build his case against my attacker. In the meantime, he was held in the County Jail which incidentally was right down the street from my house and he was not let out on bail. When he was first caught, he had no sense of reality and had no idea why he was being arrested. Other associates who have seen him described him as a manic-depressive person who has had problems with the store before. While he was in jail, my attacker had been undergoing psychiatric evaluation to see if he would be fit to stand trial. That was another thing I had to worry about: Would I have to go to court and testify again if the case went to trial? I was hoping to put this behind me as quickly as possible.
And yet I still managed to do some things that helped me take my mind off the ordeal. For starters, about a couple weeks after the incident, I went to Hamilton College with a person I worked with to attend the ceremony where Chester Gillette’s prison diary was donated to the library’s collection of Gillette memorabilia for which I got my picture in the Observer-Dispatch again. I also went on the Heart Run in Utica with my mother as well. And I received my first laptop computer from a contact I made in Houston, Texas as a result of the Gillette blog. Now with that computer, I was able to continue working on my book and at the same time I launched what is now my main website. It seemed that slowly but surely that my life was starting to return to normal.
And throughout the remainder of the year, I got updates from the District Attorney’s Office on the status of the case and on the defendant. I basically wanted the defendant to get whatever sentence the court deemed fit to give him. I did not sue him because he looked like the type of guy who did not have anything to go after. Eventually, the case ended up not going to trial and he ended up getting sentenced to five years’ probation. And I never saw the guy again after his arrest. Finally, the ordeal was over.
As far as what happened, I have long since gotten over the incident and I do not have any long-lasting lingering effects such as pain in my right hand or any bad memories of that night. Looking back on what happened that night, I could not fight back because I was on the clock and there has been some controversy about losing your job if you act in self-defense. However, if this happened on the street, I would have had more options and I would have been able to fight back. But all in all, I acted accordingly in that case.
Hopefully I will not find myself in that situation again but then again, retail can be just as dangerous as police work especially in terms of the people you deal with. There will always be crazies out there that are looking to do an innocent person trying to do his or her job harm. I was very fortunate to be alive that night but there have been others that have not been so lucky. The world is a pretty dangerous place which is why people have to be vigilant because this is just one of many things that could happen to anybody if you are not careful.