Incident Analysis: family threatened, attacker shot at home in rural Oregon.

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Oregon is a wonderful state, generally very peaceful and tranquil. That isn’t to say crime doesn’t happen here, however, and there is the need to be prepared — just like you would anywhere else. Today’s case comes from the Medford Mail-Tribune and offers some lessons to heed.

On the evening of July 14th, a man tried to break into the secluded home of Charles and Jeanine Buckman. The Buckmans heard a man — later identified as Matthew Durbin, a transient — trying to get into their house through the doors and windows. When he tried to break through their sliding glass door, Charles Buckman fired two rounds and causing Durbin to run off. There was another problem, though — he ran toward the Buckman’s children’s room window. Charles fired another six rounds from his .40 S&W pistol, and Durbin was pronounced dead at the scene.

What can we learn from this? What did the Buckmans do right and where could they improve?

First, it’s important to note that even though Oregon law (and many other state’s laws) says it’s technically permissible to use lethal force against someone in the process of a burglary in one’s home, in practice the standard is that the occupants of the home must be in reasonable fear of their physical safety. You can’t shoot someone just because he’s trying to steal your television! You have to be in reasonable fear that the person, because of his actions and demeanor, intends to do you bodily harm if he gains entry to your home.

In this case Durbin was systematically pounding on doors and windows, apparently ranting and raving incoherently. When Durbin tried to break through their patio door, Charles Buckman says he was “petrified” and that’s what prompted him to start shooting. Even not being there the description of Durbin’s actions would suggest to me that the Buckmans had a reasonable fear for their lives and the lives of their children. Even without the appearance of a weapon his behavior would indicate to this layperson that he was unstable and unpredictable — and that would be enough to convince me, either in that situation or sitting on a Grand Jury, that there was the required reasonable fear.

However, it’s important to look at what Buckman told the media: that he was “petrified”. This suggests to the uninitiated that he may have fired not out of legitimate fear for his life, but out of panic. I suspect that wasn’t the case, given the rest of the evidence, but it does point out the need to be very careful when talking to either the press or investigators; a small slip like that could come back to haunt you should the case go to trial. Don’t run your mouth! Stick to the objective facts and your rational analysis of why you needed to shoot.

Buckman found it necessary to run after Durbin in order to keep him from getting into the kid’s room after the first shots were fired. It’s almost never advisable to chase after a suspect because not only do you not know what they’ll do (or, in this case, if he had a weapon), you also don’t know if he has accomplices. Leaving the safety of the house to chase a subject through your backyard isn’t the smartest thing you can be doing at ten o’clock in the evening!

The reason it happened, of course, was because Buckman was scared that the maniac who tried to smash through his slide door would try to get into the children’s bedroom. That’s a scenario no parent wants to contemplate, but was there a way to protect his kids without exposing himself to needless danger? Yes! If he and his family had prepared for a home invasion by setting up a safe room and practiced barricading the whole family at a moment’s notice, he could have simply stayed in his safe room to deal with the intruder without worrying about where his kids were or if they were safe.

That kind of pre-planning is important, but it’s vital if you have children to protect. Practicing gathering the kids and retreating to the room where you have communications, security, and defensive tools can eliminate the need to improvise an imperfect response — because even if that imperfect response is successful, as it was here, it can also fail with tragic results. Get yourself and your family safe, and stay as safe as possible while you deal with the situation.

To do that, you need to plan and practice ahead of time; stage your communications and defensive tools and train to retrieve and use them efficiently. Keeping the handgun in a quick-access safe, for instance, makes it easy to get to when you need it but still keeps it out of the hands of children. Having a charged cell phone, or at least a landline in the safe room, means that you can call authorities while keeping yourself secure. Of course, a reinforced and locked door is important to help keep your attacker from getting into your safe area!

Calling 9-1-1 and staying on the line, as Jeanine Buckman did, is an important part of reporting the crime in progress. Being able to update responders in real time helps them do their job better and also serves as a record of the attack. 9-1-1 recordings are admissible evidence in court and being able to show an accurate timeline and having independent verification of the sequence of events could prove vital to the investigation (and possible court defense.) My suspicion is that the District Attorned declined to file charges after reviewing those recordings and being convinced that the Buckman’s story was accurate. Once you call 9-1-1, don’t hang up until the incident is over — even if you have to drop the phone, leave the connection open!

Finally, I don’t know what kind of security systems the Buckmans had in place but this is another area you should consider. Think of home security in terms of deterrence, detection, and evidence. Dogs are a good start and can both deter a criminal and give you advance notice of their presence. Video surveillance can help with that detection and alert function as well, and technology has made them far more affordable and easier to install than ever before. Video recordings are superb evidence about an incident! Exterior lighting is another thing to consider, and while I don’t know if it would have scared off Durbin it often does just that.

I’m glad that Charles, Jeanine and their children are safe and that their response, even if imperfect, was successful. They did a lot of things right, and I hope they take a look at what they could have done better and make some changes around their home. They’ve offered the rest of us a chance to learn without having to experience such a traumatic incident ourselves.

Now, what have you learned from the Buckman incident? Look at your own home and your own family defenses and make some plans; install security, prepare a safe room, get that quick-access safe, and most importantly rehearse your response before you really need it!

— Grant Cunningham

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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