Red Flags

Do you think you can identify someone who has taken the time to plan a murder?

Maybe you think you can identify them from their past or their looks, lifestyle, tone, friends, career, etc.? Consider this: During the second trial in my case, I was shocked at the testimony of the defendant’s childhood – and not for the reasons you might expect. I assumed I would hear gory tales of sexual abuse, long-term neglect, physical abuse, and hunger. Instead, he reported having a grandmother he loved dearly. Later in life, he had a wife he cherished. No levels of abuse or neglect were identified from his childhood. His childhood –from this report- appeared not that different from mine or any other childhood filled with church camps, family reunions, ball games, and theme parks. A family that was nurturing, loving, and close.

That unnerved me. It showed me that people capable of stalking, rape, torture, stabbing, stealing, drug abuse, and murder can come from a place not that different than from mine. In fact, it is hard to determine who may be willing to become violent unless we have learned specific red flags to help identify a threat.

It is difficult to recognize predators from their appearance – rapists, murderers, serial killers, can look just like lawyers, doctors, and teachers. Imagine Jeffrey Dahmer in a suit and tie sitting in a boardroom leading a business meeting. Meeting him in this setting and not knowing his history, would you believe him capable of the violence he committed? If he later approached you in a parking lot, would you assume he was a safe person or use your tools to determine if he may be a predator? When you meet someone in your everyday life and then meet them again later in a questionable situation, you will be much slower to notice red flags. It is impossible to use your eyes to determine if you are safe – especially eyes cloaked in denial, eyes that don’t want to see what is there. To stay safe, you need to acknowledge that wolves/predators exist and that they are smart enough to approach you in sheep’s clothing. They do not overtly let you know their sinister plans.

Once you are comfortable trusting intuition – paying attention and engaging in an audition of your own – you will find predators give clues you can pick up on. Knowing this allows you to avoid living in fear – rather you can experience an empowering sense of confidence that you are trained with the mindset, awareness, and tactics to keep yourself and those you love safer.

So learn how to see with more than just with your eyes and discover how to identify predators before they hurt you.

Below are specific forms of manipulation that predators use to lower your guard and get close enough to hurt you. I have included specific examples from my case to show you how these play out in real life. Please commit these to memory and use them to as filters as you learn to quickly identify threats.

Twelve Red Flags


It is hard to determine who may be willing to become violent unless you have learned specific red flags to look for.

1) Gut reaction: Trusting your “gut” or your intuition is the first and most important red flag. Trust intuition to alert you but don’t rely on instinct to create your safety plan. Please review Identifying Threats for more information.

2) Doesn’t feel right: When your instincts tell you something isn’t right, it isn’t. This is part of trusting your gut and then engaging in mindset, situational awareness, and tools to remove yourself from a situation before it becomes dangerous. Anyone can be a predator, and anyone can be a victim. Do not let the age, sex, or race of a person lull you into a sense of safety. Men are often victimized, and they are less likely to report it. Women can be vicious predators. And age means nothing.

3) False sense of unity or familiarity:

A statement like “We can do this,” may be an emotional attempt to create an inappropriate sense of teamwork, intimacy, or shared goals and should trigger you to engage your tools, mindset, awareness and tactics. “Inappropriate” may look like many different things, but in general, a person attempting to create a sense of unity with someone in a vulnerable situation (hallway after work hours, parking lot, answering the door while home alone) should set off alarms. In my case, my attacker appealed to the work I had done for him in the past and how his grandmother wanted to use only me and claimed “we” must work on this crisis together. He said I was the only one who could help them.

The words themselves are not dangerous or threatening – it is the way they are used and in what context. Use situational awareness (being aware of your specific situation and what would be appropriate) to determine if the context is appropriate. The same techniques a predator uses to lower your defenses may be the same techniques used at a work retreat for team building. If a man approaches a woman in a vulnerable situation using those techniques, he may want nothing more than her cell phone number so he can ask her on a date, or he may be auditioning her for the role in his next crime. Be mindful and remember it is not the words that are used but the context they are used in that can warn you of sinister plans.

4) False need to be rescued: Be suspicious if asked to rescue someone from a “crisis.” Ask yourself if this is really a crisis and if you are the person to help them.

It seems as if many predators use this tactic as an appeal to good-hearted, nurturing people. In fact, this was one of my attacker’s many ploys. It worked on me the day I was kidnapped but did not in the incident below. Read through this real-life example and look for signs I used to stay safe. I employed the skills discussed here which unfortunately were things I did not know the day I was kidnapped.

I stayed in a hotel in Denver, Colorado. Early that morning, I was scraping the ice off the windshield of our rented SUV in the hotel parking lot. I was in the middle of a very congested business area with several stores open within sight of the parking lot. In my peripheral vision, I noticed a man walking purposefully toward me. I could also see several other men in the parking lot and knew we were in the middle of heavy pedestrian traffic. I immediately asked myself why this man would be walking specifically toward me. Why me and not one of the many men in the parking lot?

As the man got closer, I stopped scraping the windshield, stretched out my left arm, spread my hand wide open and said, “Do you need something?” This was not spoken in a kind and encouraging voice but rather a challenge. I immediately made mental notes of what his physical appearance told me: he was not wearing a jacket even though it was a very cold winter day; his shoes were clean, meaning he had not walked far in the snow and ice all over the road; and he was holding a new iPhone in his left hand and looked very well kept.

He started to tell me a long, detailed story about his family needing help because they were stuck in a car near the interstate. From his description of the location, I knew he was lying as I had driven that route the day before and it was very far away – too far for him to walk in snow and still have clean looking shoes.

I interrupted him and said, “I don’t appreciate it when strange men approach me in parking lots.”

He immediately snarled at me and said, “You don’t have to be afraid all of your life.” He abruptly spun around, strode away from me through the bushes bordering the parking lot, and disappeared. He did not approach any of the other people in the parking lot, nor did he walk into any of the businesses that surrounded us. He simply got angry and walked away. I don’t know what his plans were, but he clearly did not have a genuine need for help.

His inappropriate response confirmed his bad intentions. A smoother predator would have responded gently with an apology and possibly tried again. A man with no bad intentions would have apologized for scaring me and not become angry. Either way, I avoided a situation that was clearly not meant for my good.

5) Physical or verbal boundary breakers:  These include ignoring a “no” statement, standing too close, failing to leave when asked, or any attempt to ignore your will.

You may have heard it said that “no” is a complete sentence. It creates a boundary that is not up for negotiation or to be crossed. No means no, literally and figuratively. If every time you say no to someone, they don’t accept it, then engage your tools and remind yourself this person is attempting to force you to do something. Perceiving it in that manner will allow you to be firmer and more resolute than you might otherwise be.

It gives you permission to find a way to get away from the person. If they continue to engage or try to make you feel bad for declining their offer of help, you have moved from a red flag to a red banner. Get out. Don’t have a conversation where you try to convince them how you are right to refuse etc… Just get away. Walk away. Get out your cell phone or take some action to protect yourself. It is crucial to have a predetermined number of times you will allow someone to break through your boundaries before you take action. For some people, it is one time; for others it is three times – whatever you are comfortable with and is appropriate for the situation. Once they cross the line (this is what we refer to as drawing the line and is discussed at length on that page) you will be more confident to take action to protect yourself. If someone wants to force you to do something you don’t want to do, there is no reason to stay around until you figure out what that may be.

6) Attempts to shame or guilt: Negative statements tend to make people feel guilty or act in a way to disprove the allegation. Identify this as intentionally deceptive. You are too busy to help me can be an effort to manipulate.

7) Unsolicited promises: You don’t have to worry. I’ll take care of you. You are safe with me. Ask yourself, Why would he say this? Why or how am I safe with this person?

8) Emotional pleas: Watch for an attempt to manipulate or control using emotional statements. I’m scared. I’m upset. I’m hurting.

9) Lying: Listen for clues the person is lying: trying too hard to convince you something is true, including too many details.  A person who has good intentions and is in genuine need of help has no reason to lie to you. Lying is simply another form of manipulation that works on most people.

10) Inconsistency: Pay attention to their words and actions in the context of the situation. Are they consistent? If not, pay attention and understand that this is another form of lying and manipulation. Any time a person manipulates you, acknowledge that they are trying to take something from you against your will. Remember my experience from Colorado as a perfect example.

11) Behavior inappropriate to the situation/context: Watch for behavior that may seem odd, exaggerated, or not the norm for the situation. This can be the result of many things, including, but not limited to, the influence of drugs or alcohol. Pay attention to determine if you need to remove yourself from the situation.

12) Too helpful: Being overly helpful may be a way of gaining some form of leverage or to make you feel as if you now “owe” them something.  Again, they are trying to manipulate you and force you to take action out of guilt or some perceived duty.