A tragic murder from January 2008 teaches powerful lessons about self defense. While researching and writing about this case was heartbreaking, I offer the following article in the hope that we as a country can learn from Meredith Emerson’s murder, so that this same fate doesn’t befall another innocent person.
The murder of Meredith Emerson
Meredith Emerson was a 24 year old woman who stood 5’4″ and weighed 120 lbs. She was described by her roommate as an athletic person, whose interests included martial arts, and who held a blue belt. An avid hiker, she set out with her dog to hike the Appalachian Trail on Blood Mountain, part of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. On January 1, 2008, Meredith Emerson disappeared. Days later, a search party found Meredith’s water bottle and dog leash. 60 miles from where Meredith had been hiking, her dog was found roaming around a parking lot. Near that parking lot, police found Meredith’s blood covered clothes, her wallet, and a piece of a car seatbelt in a dumpster. A 61 year old drifter, Gary Michael Hilton, was arrested and charged with her murder. Hilton confessed, saying that he had targeted Meredith simply because she was a woman. Hilton had followed Meredith on the trail, but couldn’t keep up with the athletic young woman. Undeterred, Hilton waited for Meredith to return from her hike, and ambushed her with a knife and a baton. Meredith fought back and yelled for help, putting forth a brave effort to defend herself. Despite trying her best, Hilton’s weapons and height/weight advantage allowed him to beat Meredith severely, then put her and her dog into his van. For three days, he tried to get Meredith to give him her pin number, but she gave him wrong numbers in an effort to buy herself time to escape. After promising to let Meredith go, Hilton tied her to a tree and then went back to his van to make coffee. After enjoying his coffee, he returned to the tree, beat Meredith to death with a car jack, and beheaded her. Hilton’s stated rational for the beheading was that it would make identifying Meredith’s body more difficult. After confessing, Hilton was sentenced to life in prison.
The first lesson: martial arts training and physical fitness only mean so much
Physical fitness and hand-to-hand self defense training are both good things. However they are no substitute for a weapon, especially when the victim is facing a larger attacker. Meredith Emerson was a physically fit young woman with martial training, who tried her very best to fight off her attacker. However a 61 year old man, who did not seem very physically fit in his mugshot, was able to beat, stab, kidnap, and behead Meredith.
Compare Meredith’s murder with cases where female crime victims have been armed, and the potentially life-saving benefits of gun ownership are quite clear: This pregnant woman used a shotgun to fend off two home invaders. This woman used her handgun to stop a wanted fugitive who tackled her as she tried to enter her own home. This elderly woman used her handgun to hold a burglar at gunpoint, and make him call the police on himself. This woman used her handgun to defend herself against a home invading stalker, who broke in and chased her into her own bedroom. This woman shot a convicted sex offender who came back to rape her for a second time that week. This woman used her handgun to fend off three home invaders, including one who came back while the burglar alarm was still sounding. I could go on listing many more examples, but the point should be clear: an armed woman is in the best possible position to defender herself against an attacker.
The second lesson: national parks can be a dangerous place, and concealed carry rights are needed
Over the last year, there has been much debate about concealed carry in national parks. Beginning last summer, the Department of the Interior solicited comments about a proposed rule that would allow concealed carry in national parks, if the state where that national park was located allowed concealed carry. In the waning days of the Bush administration, that rule was passed. Shortly thereafter, the Brady Campaign sued to prevent the rule from going in to effect, and the Obama administration allowed the new national parks concealed carry rights to die quietly. Luckily for America’s law abiding citizens who value self defense, an Act of Congress (which will go into effect in 2010) restored national park concealed carry rights.
Throughout the above political wrangling, those opposed to gun rights tried their very best to suggest that no one needs a gun in a national park. As the murder of Meredith Emerson shows, that just isn’t true. As another example, Darrell David Rice was convicted of attacking a female bicyclist in Shenandoah National Park, and was sentenced to 11 years in prison for that crime. In another case, two women were murdered while visiting Mount Pilchuck in Washington state. Looking at numbers instead of anecdotal examples, the crime rates have been rising in National Parks, and National Park Service Officers were found to be 12 times more likely than FBI agents to be killed or injured by criminals. The sad fact is that criminals are just as willing to commit their crimes in our national parks as they are on a city street, and the isolation of national parks can work to the criminals’ advantage.
Note: My thanks to ChrisCP for mentioning the Meredith Emerson case, of which I was previously unaware of.