On February 19, 1999 I was carjacked. Here's how I described the story several days later in an e-mail letter to my friends and family.
Something very scary happened to me Friday night.
Some of you may know that I recently took a job at Sun Microsystems. (No, that's not the scary part.) I just moved to the San Francisco bay area.
At 5:00 or so Friday evening, I arrived in Sunnyvale CA from Portland OR with a car load of stuff. I stopped at the temporary apartment that Sun rented for me (my permanent apartment was not yet available), and took a bunch of stuff up to the apartment. Then I went to Cupertino to eat.
When I got back, about 9:00, I parked, got out of my car, opened the trunk, and grabbed a small crate of stuff to carry into the apartment. A guy approached me and said, "Are you in apartment 612?" I said no.
Then he pulled a gun out of his jacket, and said, "Get in the car." I got in the car. (At this point, I think I'll save you some suspense and tell you that I was not harmed in this incident.)
He told me to get into the passenger seat, which I did. Then he got into the driver's seat and asked for the keys, which I gave him. He had a partner, who got in the back seat. I felt the gun touch the back of my head, and the guy in back said, "Don't make a sound." (I had noticed the two guys as I drove into the parking lot, but because this was a big apartment complex, I didn't make anything of it.)
We drove out of the apartment parking lot. The driver asked if I had any money. I said I did. He told me to give him my wallet, which I did. (You may be seeing a pattern here!) He flipped through it, and gave it to the guy in the back seat. The back seat guy asked if I had an ATM card. I said, "Yes, it's the one with my picture on it." He asked for my PIN number, which I told him.
The driver said something about putting me in the trunk. He and the other guy spoke some language I don't know for a while (after talking later with the police, we think it was Vietnamese). Then the driver said, "No, let's not. He might not be able to breathe back there." I didn't dispute him.
The driver said (several times during the incident), "We don't want to hurt you. We just want the money." He asked if I had anything that might be easy to sell. I gave him my cell phone. He didn't want my watch.
The driver asked my PIN number again. They both asked for it a couple of times. I wasn't sure whether they were trying to memorize it, or maybe checking to see if I was giving them the same number each time. I decided to be extra helpful. I said, "I think I can help you remember it. It's 7476. It's July 4, '76, the date the US Declaration of Independence was signed." I was just about finished saying this when the absurdity of my "helping" hit me. How likely were these guys to know that date? I don't know whether I laughed out loud.
The guy in the back kept saying stuff like, "Don't make a sound," and, "Don't move." At least once he followed up with, "or I'll blow your head off." In between each of these commands, he would say, "Relax." If that isn't surreal enough, about the third time he told me to relax, I decided I might as well, and I did. I certainly couldn't think of anything better to do.
We were driving all over Sunnyvale (a city with the 7th lowest crime rate in the country). I remembered most of the street names from when I'd visited a week earlier to find an apartment, but I have no idea what route we took. The driver kept making turns and U-turns. Once he said he wanted to find an ATM.
Several times, we pulled behind small apartment buildings or offices into dimly lit parking lots. Now THAT was truly frightening. I didn't know what intentions they had in a parking lot, but I figured it couldn't be good. There were certainly no ATMs there.
About the third time we pulled into a parking lot, we stopped. The driver got out of the car and went to the back, where (by the sounds) he tried to open the trunk. The ignition key didn't open the trunk, so he came back to the driver's door and asked how to open it. I said there was a button on the dash. He looked and looked but couldn't find it. He kept asking where it was, and I kept trying to explain, but he still couldn't find it. I told him I could point to it if I could lean over. He said okay. The guy in back said, "Very slowly." I pointed out the button, the driver pushed it, and I heard the trunk release.
The driver went to the back of the car. He came around to my door and either opened it or asked me to open it. He said, "Get out." Then he said, "No, don't get out." He said to get out and not to get out a few more times.
I'm not sure what changed his mind about putting me in the trunk (because I couldn't breathe? because the trunk was mostly full?), but he finally said, "We have to find a place to let you out." That was one hell of a relief.
The driver got back into my car, and we drove off again. We pulled over to the side of the road a few times, then started off again. Finally we got onto 101 (a major bay area highway) and headed south. After a few miles, we pulled to the side of the highway, just after an overpass in San Jose. The driver said, "Get out... No, don't get out." We played that game for few more rounds, then he said, "Get out... very slowly." So I did... and they drove away.
The whole thing lasted about 20 minutes.
I scrambled down the embankment, across a street, and into a Hyatt hotel where I called the police.
The four or more San Jose police kept telling me, "This kind of thing never happens in Sunnyvale." A Sunnyvale officer came (that's where the thing started, so the Sunnyvale police would take over), and he said the same thing. He drove me back to Sunnyvale. On the way, he said he'd like to take me to the apartment before we went to the station.
When we got to the apartment, he stopped and got out of the car. That was more terrifying to me than the 20 minutes when I had a gun pressed into the back of my head. I was thinking, "These guys know what I look like, and I'm sitting alone in this car." A few cars drove by slowly, and I ducked behind the dash each time.
A few other cruisers arrived, and I got out of the car. The crate of stuff I had taken out of the trunk was still sitting by my parking space. I pointed to my apartment and said, "I left those lights on, but I think I locked the door." Two officers went to take a look. When they got back, one of the officers said, "Yeah, you locked the door, but it looks like they tried to kick it in." I started to shake, and he said, "Just kidding!" Gahhhh! What a dink!
The next few days were pretty interesting, but not so dramatic. My friend Mark Brunelle came down from San Francisco, and we went to the apartment to retrieve my stuff. Thinking about going back there was absolutely terrifying... the most terrifying part of the whole thing. It doesn't seem all that logical that the bad guys would be there, but I didnt' care all that much about being logical. We called the Sunnyvale PD, and they sent an officer to stand by with us. We were in and out in just a few minutes. It was a big relief to be out of there, and a tremendous relief to me to have the officer with us.
The bad guys used my ATM card a few minutes after they dropped me off, a block or two from where they had picked me up. The bank says they got a good picture of the guy at the ATM, and they've mailed it to the Sunnyvale PD. No sign of my car yet. The detective tells me this is a capital crime -- armed robbery, kidnapping, a few other things mixed in.
I'm mostly feeling okay. (Maybe too okay? I dunno.) I've found out that I'm very jumpy about sudden noises. And I get an adrenaline rush sometimes when I'm stopped in traffic and there are cars all around me -- a kind of "trapped" feeling. I have a hunch I'll freak out the first time a dark green Diamante (like my car) pulls up beside me. And who knows how I'll react the next time I pull into a parking lot and see two guys standing there.
I'm fortunate to have some good friends in the area, and Sun has gone WAY beyond the call of duty to help. And I'm fortunate to have all of you who care about me.
I will call some of you eventually. For now, I'm trying to conserve my limited supply of cash until my replacement credit cards and ATM card arrive (just another few days, I think).
So... how was your day?