Patty Johnson, co-owner of Barringer’s Blossom Shop and Johnson Jewelers, shows off the new metal gate on the shop’s back door. Jill McLaughlin Photo
Patty Johnson was taking care of paperwork on a Sunday night in March in the back office of her shop as she often had. She was also chatting with her daughter on the cell phone.
The crash of glass and the sound of the back door slamming open surprised her. She didn’t think about her gun inside the desk drawer. Her first thought was to rush down the dark hallway toward the noise.
Standing before her was a husky man in a loose-fitting top.
Johnson said she wasn’t about to back down. She wasn’t about to crawl under her desk and hide.
Instead she ran screaming at the intruder to “get out!” she said, alerting him that she had a gun and she was calling the police.
The burglar dropped a second brick, possibly meant to be used to break into the shop’s jewelry case, and ran out another door.
“That man thought he had an opportunity,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to kill somebody, but next time I’m not gonna lay down and take it. I’m not gonna cower. I’m not gonna do that.”
Johnson, co-owner of Barringer’s Blossom Shop and Jewelry on North Main Street, is certified to carry a concealed weapon and has taken a safety course. Her father taught her to stand up and face problems and “deal with them,” she said.
“I’m going to fight back from that,” Johnson said. “You can’t take something just because you want it. You have to work for it. That’s what I did. I’m not going to lie down and have you come into my store.”
The Johnsons are closing their jewelry section following the break-in. With their daughter working in the store now, and after other incidents where thieves have attempted to grab jewelry from cases or sell stolen goods to them, the family felt the time was right to close Johnson Jewelers.
“Putting our family at risk is not worth it,” Johnson said.
Johnson was raised in Roswell. She said she has watched it grow from a town where, as a child, she could run to the store for her mother, to a city that she can’t even leave her patio furniture out for fear it will be stolen in the middle of the night.
In many years as a business owner with her husband, she has experienced seven to eight criminal incidents, she said.
“That disturbs me,” Johnson said. “I am angry at what has happened in our country. I want to be part of the solution. I don’t want to be part of the problem. I don’t want to be sticking my head in the sand. We are on a downward slide and that is concerning to me.”
Johnson told her story to the Chaves County Republican Women this week at a monthly luncheon that focused on a discussion about crime. The organization sponsored a Women’s Concealed Carry Weapon class Saturday.
A retired New Mexico State Police crime investigator, KC Rogers, followed Johnson at the luncheon and spoke about his experience with criminals and crime in the state.
According to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics from 2010, Roswell’s violent crime rate was higher than the national average by 84 percent; property crime rate was higher by 67 percent; violent crime rate was higher than the state’s by 26 percent; and its property crime rate was higher than New Mexico’s by 43 percent.
Rogers, who spent 21 years with the state police in undercover work and criminal investigation, said he “learned a lot” during his time and put some 2,000 people in prison. Rogers now teaches a program that is one of the most valuable for rehabilitating criminals in the nation, he said.
“I’ve spent my whole life dealing with criminals,” Rogers said. The real advice I could give is I think (Johnson) did the right thing. I’m 100 percent for confronting that issue. It’s fight or run. But if your brain says fight, then fight like hell. That’s how your brain works. Scream, holler and fight like hell. Do whatever it takes.”
Most criminals aren’t expecting to be confronted, Rogers said.
“The average person doing these types of things aren’t really there to cause physical harm to anybody. They’re like a cornered rattlesnake. They’re scared. Sometimes if you confront them it can go wrong. But I’m 100 percent on the side of, have a phone in one hand and a .45 caliber in the other.”
The best defense is to know your surroundings, Rogers said.
“I live in the country and I know when someone’s been in my yard,” he said.
He also suggested to learn everything you can about your situation and be extra aware and to not be afraid to use 9-1-1 to call for help.
“Dial 9-1-1 and scream loudly and hang up. Cops are coming,” he said. “They’ll be there real fast. I guarantee it.”
Most of all, Rogers said to take the situation seriously.
“Don’t take any of this lightly. There are people out there who will kill you without hesitation,” Rogers said. “They would murder you and move along.”
As for Johnson and her floral shop, she doesn’t plan to stop working and carrying on her business as usual. But she hopes someday her neighbors will start to watch out for each other. She hopes the police will get the support they need in the future and supports safety training for everyone, even if they don’t want to carry a gun.
“We need to start by being observant and watch out for each other. It’s all about choice,” she said. “Protect yourself. Have a plan. It starts with each one of us.”
Record Staff Writer