This past week the news in my area has been full of stories about the tragic death of Amy Lord, a young woman living in Boston. She was only 24, and had moved not long ago to South Boston (the notorious "Southie" that spawned Whitey Bulger, currently on trial in Boston for multiple murders and other crimes, but now increasingly gentrified), sharing an apartment with roommates, working, and enjoying her independence. She was educated and pretty, and had everything going for her, including a loving and supportive family not far away.
Then one day she opened the door to the wrong person, who attacked her. That was bad enough, but then he insisted that she go with him—in her car—to get cash for him from ATM machines. And here's where the story goes awry.
They stopped at five ATM machines. In broad daylight. On busy streets, in plain view—there is bank surveillance footage of at least one of these stops, and you can see the cars passing on the street behind. So why did she meekly get back in the car with her assailant, over and over, rather than running like hell, screaming, into the bank or to a police station or almost anywhere else? The man acted alone; he wasn't holding her family or her children or even her dog hostage. Why did she do what he asked, and then keep doing it?
I know it's wrong to blame the victim. Of course she was terrified and disoriented—things like this don't happen to nice pretty girls from the suburbs, certainly not in the middle of the day. But why couldn't she have found a way to get away? Instead she accompanied him, and at the end of the day he stabbed her and dumped her body in a wooded park (where she was found very quickly). Could she have saved herself?
As writers we are charged with creating characters who are both appealing and believable. We want the readers to be able to identify with them, so that they care what happens to them. Of course, what you as the writer set down on the page is not exactly real life, and you can shape your fiction any way you choose, but you usually want your characters to be liked..
We all carry in the back of our minds the movie image of the sweet young coed who is all alone in the house when she hears a suspicious thump in the basement while all her sorority sisters are out on fabulous dates (and the nerds are at the library). So she decides to investigate, usually clad in the skimpiest of nightgowns, barefoot; maybe she takes a flashlight (the lightbulbs are always burnt out in these basements). Of course things end badly for her, but we all know she was asking for it. We label these young women Too Stupid to Live.
I'm not for a moment saying that Amy Lord made such poor decisions, but I can't shake the feeling that she should have been more proactive. I can't believe she didn't have more than one opportunity to save herself, merely by making noise and running. Would he, could he have shot her? Maybe. Would he have hit her? Possibly, but by no means surely. Wouldn't being shot be preferable to what actually happened?
Please don't think I'm unsympathetic, because this bright, talented young woman's death is truly a tragic waste. But I keep thinking, if I had read this in a novel I would have said, "What's wrong with you? Do something!"