Attacked and Held at Knife Point–Our Vacation Nightmare

On Friday, January 3, 2014, my family (my parents, husband, two daughters–ages 1 and 3) and I were playing on Isla Verde beach in Puerto Rico when a man came out of the shadows, put a knife to my mom’s throat, and fought to keep her restrained while his accomplice took our belongings. This is a dark story, but you should know before reading that we have all physically recovered. Prayers are appreciated for complete emotionally healing. To see our thoughts for how you can best avoid a similar situation, please read our travel safety precautions post.

My mom calls this story “Thoughts on Being Brave/Stupid.”

January 3, 2014. (A Friday)

Tonight we walked to a little restaurant (La Playita) about a half mile away from our hotel (ESJ Towers) on Isla Verde Beach in Puerto Rico. Our hotel locks the gate to our beach at 6 p.m. But the beaches are open and private and this particular piece of sand connects the restaurant to our hotel.

We decided to stop and play in the sand a bit after dinner. (In hindsight, we know that this was stupid, stupid, stupid.) It was pretty empty, but we weren’t alone the entire time. A few couples strolled past and a group of drunk tourists. Our girls (ages 1 and 3) took off their dresses to play in the sand, and my mom sat on a little wooden platform. We were a few yards away from the street and a big security light that sort of illuminated where the girls were playing.

While we were playing, a guy came out of the shadows and asked Nate (my husband) which hotel was behind us (in hindsight, I think he was asking to see if we were tourists or to use his question as an excuse to get close to us). There was another guy behind him, smoking.

I few minutes later, the first man ran up behind my mom, put her in a choke hold, and held a six-inch knife to her neck.

My mom gasped and started yelling. The man kept saying “Shhh! Shh!” It took the rest of us a second to realize what was going on. Was this really happening?

Nate was like, “Hey! Hey…what’s going on? Let her go. What are you doing with a knife? What do you want? Do you want money? Let her go.”

I’m not entirely sure what my dad and I did, but I freaked out enough that the girls started crying. I don’t know who had the girls (maybe my dad was holding the baby?), but I grabbed them both and took off.

The other guy–the one without the knife–pulled me back and tried to get me to stay.

I started crying and peeing my pants and begging him to let me get away with the girls.

I don’t remember deciding to grab the girls and run. It’s a blur.

All I have is an image of me holding my two crying babies, getting pulled on by the man, being vaguely aware that I was peeing, and crying.

Thank God he didn’t try to bully me or pull out a weapon. He let me go. I took off with the girls and ran to the street.

(What if they had gone for the girls with the knife? What if they had tried to use them as leverage?)

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What was I going to do? I saw a man in the street.”Help! Please help me!” But I didn’t want to be too loud in case the men decided that my noise was reason to hurt my mom.

The man spoke English and was a security guard at a nearby condo tower. He led us into the gated area of the condos and called 911.

A few minutes later (2 minutes? 5 minutes? 10 minutes?), Nate, my dad, and mom came down the street looking for us.

Knife attack--our family's vacation nightmareThe police came in a few minutes and called the paramedics.

My mom’s nose and mouth were pretty bloody. She thinks the blood in her mouth may have been the attacker’s blood. She was biting the man hard enough to draw (lots of) blood.

Knife attack--our family's vacation nightmare

Our three-year-old started crying again: “Why is Mamaw bleeding? Why did the bad guys hurt Mamaw?”

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Apparently, my mom didn’t realize he had a knife, and she fought back. It’s hard to believe that she didn’t see it, but who knows what would have happened had she not resisted? She kneed him in the groin, punched him, bit his arm. We’re all so proud of how hard she fought, although we all realize that fighting back against a knife to the throat is terribly dangerous and not at all recommended.

It’s an absolute miracle she wasn’t cut. Thank you, God, for your protection.

Apparently, the attacker choked her so hard that she just started sliding to the ground—she thought she was going to asphyxiate and die. That’s also around the time she saw the shining blade of the knife.

While the one man was holding my mom with a knife at her throat, the other guy was trying to get money from Dad and Nate.  I know that my dad and Nate wanted to save and rescue my mom, but what were their options? They couldn’t fight back or the man would have cut or strangled my mom. After all, the assailant’s only bargaining chip was that he had a knife to my mom’s throat. If he showed any leeway or leniency there, my dad and Nate would have beaten the crap out of both of them.

Nate told the guy that he could have the cash and get out of there, but there was nothing else of value. Nate pulled the cash out of his wallet and held the money out as far away as possible to lure the accomplice away. The man grabbed Nate’s wallet; Nate boldly took it back.

Once my mom slid to the ground, she got enough air to try rummaging through her purse to get cash. The attacker grabbed her wallet and ran.

Maybe they knew that the police were on their way. I hope that my fleeing the scene not only protected the girls but also forced the men to leave sooner than they might have. I’ve had moments since the attack where I’ve felt bad for abandoning my family. But I know that every one is glad that I got the girls away.

Nate considered chasing them, but went first to check on my mom first.  By the time they made sure my mom was okay, the men were gone.

In all, the men got maybe $100 cash, a credit card or two, family photos, Mom and Dad’s driver’s licenses, and some painful bruises from my mom.

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This is not the end of our story. One of our hopes is that our experience will help others travel smarter and safer. You can read our travel safety tips here. And although I hope you never need this information, I’ve also written a post about what I’ve learned that may help you if you’re attacked.
Our horrific vacation story.

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