Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
Everyone loves a good survival story. It’s a testament to the human spirit to read about someone defying the odds and enduring at all costs. Plus, there’s always some insight to be gained when everyone is safe and sound.
That being said, today marks the beginning of a brand-new series in Black Bag Confidential: “Survival Stories.”
The goal in sharing these stories is not only to commend these brave men and women on their quick thinking and resolve, but also to impart critical advice that could save your life if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
Today you’ll learn how to avoid becoming a hostage in a robbery gone wrong, the one thing you should always do before you go hiking and the best way to survive a direct hit from a tornado.
Here we go…
Florida Man Held Hostage for Over 24 Hours
The story: On Feb. 9, 2017, Frank Novak was getting off work from the Oak Street Walmart in Kissimmee, Florida, when a man named Gabriel Rene grabbed him from behind and demanded his money. Since the $20 Novak had in his wallet wasn’t enough, Rene forced Novak to drive him around for 25 hours while waiting for Novak’s paycheck to clear. Then they drove to an ATM so Novak could withdraw a larger sum to appease his kidnapper. Rene released Novak on the morning of Feb. 10 — shaken but unharmed. Rene proceeded to kidnap four others over the next two months, until authorities finally apprehended him on April 14.
My take: When Frank realized he was getting robbed, he handed over his wallet and cash. This is exactly what you should do if this happens to you. It’s not worth losing your life over what’s in your wallet. If someone has a weapon and demands money, give them what they want.
Once the criminal asked about Frank’s bank account, the situation changed. Always try to avoid going anywhere with the robber, because the longer you are with them, the greater the chance they will harm you. Some of Rene’s later victims reported physical and sexual abuse as his actions intensified.
If someone is forcing you to drive them around, stay alert and look for an opportunity to escape. For example, when you stop to get food (Rene had Novak visit a Walmart, 7-Eleven, Burger King and a Subway) or pull up to a traffic light, you can jump out of the car. Again, the longer you are held captive, the more likely you will be hurt, so you need to act — and when you do, act decisively.
Clearly, Frank didn’t have a self-defense weapon with him. This type of situation is exactly why I recommend carrying a self-defense weapon — like a tactical pen or knife — on you at all times. My personal preference is a firearm, but you should carry what you are comfortable with.
Woman Lost off the Beaten Path at Mt. Rainier National Park
The story: On Aug. 7, 2016, 24-year-old Lacy Murphy bid farewell to her mother and set off on a solo exploration of Mount Rainier National Park. While fiddling with her camera on the edge of a steep embankment, Lacy slipped and was unable to get back up to the trail. As night fell, Lacy scrambled to find shelter from the rain and the cold. Two days later she was spotted by a member of the Seattle Mountain Rescue. After a harrowing recovery, Lacy was safely returned to her mother, who gratefully embraced the daughter she never thought she’d see again.
My take: One critical mistake Lacy made was not giving her mother more details about her planned hike. She’s quoted as saying, “I did tell Mom when to expect me back but not the route I took or the entrance I went into.” Mount Rainier National Park encompasses over 235,000 acres, which is a huge area to cover when you don’t know where to start looking.
Whether you are going for a 30-minute walk or a three-day adventure, ALWAYS tell someone where you are going, what trail you are taking and when you intend to return. You should also let them know that if you aren’t back by a certain time, they should contact authorities to look for you.
Even if you are going for a short hike, always take a backpack with your survival gear. Be sure to include (but don’t limit yourself to) water, a knife, map and flashlight. Also, I recommend taking your cellphone with you even if you don’t have service. If you lose your way, you might find yourself in an area where you get a signal.
If you do become lost while hiking, it’s best to stay put, take shelter and wait for rescuers (provided someone knows where you are). By moving, you’ll likely get farther away from the trail as well as the people looking for you. Lacy did the right thing by finding shelter to get out of the rain and using bark and moss as insulation to help her keep warm.
Lastly, it’s important to dress appropriately when you go out hiking. Wear layers so you’re prepared for extreme weather changes. Also, choose fabrics that wick away moisture but still keep you warm when wet — wool, for example, is a great option.
Tornado Demolishes Church, Miraculously Everyone Survives
The story: Last April, an EF-3 tornado ripped through the small town of Emory, Texas. Forty-five parishioners at St. John the Evangelist Church found themselves directly in the storm’s path. Church leaders shepherded everyone into the church hallway — the innermost part of the building — where they huddled together for safety. All 45 members of the congregation survived. Unfortunately, the entire church was obliterated — with the exception of the hallway that sheltered the flock.
My take: Without a doubt, the decision to move into the hallway is what saved everyone’s lives. By moving to a part of the building without exterior walls, the churchgoers were able to avoid flying objects as the building was torn apart. The only better option would have been a basement, but it’s unclear if the church had one.
The other thing that contributed to the positive outcome is that youth minister Monica Hughes had appointed someone to keep an eye on the weather since there were tornado warnings throughout East Texas that day. This way, they were not caught completely off guard and Hughes was able to move people into the hallway in time.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to prepare for a tornado. Tornadoes are one of the more formidable natural disasters because they seem to come out of nowhere without warning. The best thing to do if you live in a tornado-prone area is keep an eye on the skies and determine your best options for shelter at home, school and work.
If you have the means, consider building a storm shelter and stocking it with emergency supplies, including enough food and water for at least three days, a battery-powered survival radio, flashlight, extra batteries, prescription medications and a first-aid kit.
Do you have a daring tale of survival you’d like to share with the world? Send it to SPYfeedback@LFB.org to be featured in a future edition of “Survival Stories.”