The stranger didn’t know how long he’d been running or where he was headed. The day before, he’d taken his parents’ 42-inch plasma television while they were attending a wedding and traded it for crystal meth. After stealing from his parents, and on probation for earlier crimes, he had no place to go.
Methamphetamine works on the brain to produce a dangerous mixture of euphoria, irritability, aggression and, paranoia.
High on the drug, he exhibited all its worst effects. He believed the dealer who sold the last “ball” of white powder to him earlier that night for $200 was after him and meant to kill him. Aimlessly running through a quiet, upscale Pocatello, Idaho neighborhood, hiding from imagined enemies, he crouched like an animal in a stand of junipers.
Down the street, he saw a vehicle’s headlights blink on. He started running again, convinced his enemies were in close pursuit. He jogged through yards and climbed over fences, until he came to a pretty green house in a new development.
He tried a side door into the garage with a gloved hand. It was unlocked. He slipped in.
Robert and Ana Mandziara had moved to Pocatello, Idaho from their native California nine months earlier, after Robert was offered a great new job at the local Toyota dealer as a sales manager. The small city with its quaint downtown and nearby picture-perfect farmlands was an attractive contrast to their home in Los Alamos, California, where the cost of living was straining their budget.
Affordable, slower-paced Pocatello, with a crime rate well below the national average, seemed like the perfect spot to raise their 4-year-old son, 7-year-old daughter, and the new baby. They bought a home in a nice development in the foothills above the valley.
After years in place where they barely knew their neighbors, Ana and Robert were surprised to find people so friendly. The week they moved in, people on the street brought in meals. John and Linda Gregan, the next-door neighbors, steps away, invited their kids to play with their Labrador puppy.
Another young family, Dale and April Hatcher from Oregon had just moved in across the street and were expecting their first child. Ana felt that they had just the right spot.
Creeping through the garage and, from there, into the house, the stranger found his way into a child’s bedroom. A small boy slept there quietly. He took the stairs down to the basement, and removed his shoes, so as not to wake anyone. Back upstairs, he explored the rest of the house. A couple was sleeping in the next bedroom he entered. He sneaked in and rummaged through their closet. There, in a camouflage case, he discovered what he’d been looking for: a shotgun.
Ana hadn’t heard the dog bark. She didn’t know what stirred her awake in the middle of the night, other than a sense that something wasn’t right. The baby was still asleep in his crib, under a mosquito net canopy on Robert’s side of the bed.
Then she saw a silhouette. Someone was crawling across the floor near her bed. She gasped. The intruder brought a finger to his lips. “Shhh,” he said. And then he stood up and pointed a shotgun at her.
Numb with terror, Ana elbowed her husband.
The six-footer awoke. Still groggy, he looked up. Light from street lamps fell through the high arched window above the baby’s crib and dimly illuminated the bedroom.
There at the side of their bed, Robert saw a tall agitated stranger. The intruder swung the shotgun around and aimed it at him. Ana had to look away. Nobody spoke.
Then the intruder shut the bedroom door, all the while keeping them in the gun’s sites. He strutted back to the foot of their bed. “Keep quiet,” he told them.
Years earlier, even before they wed, Robert and Ana had planned what they would do if they were ever in a dangerous situation.
Robert had been adamant. They’d have to keep their heads. Act as rationally as possible. But the key was to act quickly before the person threatening had the upper hand. They’d seen enough news reports to know that people who didn’t do whatever was necessary to help themselves didn’t survive. Robert had given Ana explicit instructions.
Her job was to get as far away as possible and get help. His job was to fight back, to give her time to get away and get help.
“Run. Don’t look back. Don’t think about it. Just do it.” No one would survive otherwise.
Now the worst had happened, and was standing next to their bed holding a shotgun on them.
And then the baby started crying, awakened by the noise.
“Do you work in the morning?” the intruder asked matter-of-factly. ‘Yes,” Robert said. He was still trying to clear his head, get a grip on the situation.
“How many guns are in the house?”
Robert told him about a rifle in the garage, realizing it was best to tell the truth about anything that the man might easily discover for himself.
Pacing back and forth, between the master bathroom and the walk-in closet, the stranger fired question after question at them. How much money did they have in their savings account? About $3,500, Robert told him.
“Don’t you lie to me,” he yelled.
Louder now, the Mandziaras’ little one wailed his distress. The intruder grew irritated at the baby’s crying; his movements, jerky, his behavior, increasingly hostile.
“What does he need?” asked the man. “Make him stop.”
Ana’s imagination conjured up a gruesome scene: the sound of a shotgun blast…the bed and walls of the romantic bedroom she had decorated in dark wood and wrought iron, splattered with blood. She tried to dispel the image from her head. Ana pulled the old purple quilt up as far as she could, frightened of what the man might do if he realized she hadn’t worn anything to bed. Her older children still slept, unaware, in their bedrooms. She prayed that the man had not hurt them. She was certain that her husband was looking for a chance to make good on his promise: to do whatever was necessary to save his family.
She didn’t know what scared her more—that Robert might, at any moment, make his move, or that he wouldn’t get the chance.
The intruder let Robert get up from the bed, walk to the crib, pick up their crying infant, and lay him in Ana’s arms. Robert knew the man was tracking his every move with the shotgun until he lay down again beside his wife.
At first, too paralyzed by his own fear to consider his options, Robert now started thinking of how he could rescue his family from the gunman.
“Okay, this is the game plan,” said the intruder: they would wait together until the sun came up, then go to their bank, withdraw all their funds, and give the money to him.
Robert noticed that the man talked in spurts as he paced toward them, quieted as he got to the window and moved aside the curtain and crib canopy to peer at the street, then bark more orders at them as he walked away. Back and forth—between the master bathroom and the window—demanding, agitated, then quiet.
Robert felt his wife tap him on the leg and he understood. She was onboard with the plan.
All their lives were now in his hands.
Robert sat up a bit to better position himself to move quickly. The intruder didn’t appear to notice. He waited for the gunman to stop at the window and again, and pull back the curtain and canopy to peer at the street. Taking advantage of this momentary distraction, Robert Mandziara jumped out of bed, bounded across the floor and, with every ounce of strength, swung his fist into the man’s face.
The startled intruder stumbled—but he didn’t go down.
When Robert leapt out of bed, so did Ana, clutching the quilt and the little one in her arms. She dashed out the bedroom door, down the hall, and into the street. Once outside, she screamed as she never knew it was possible to scream, the wail bellowing up from her lungs frightened even her.
Dale and April Hatcher lived a few doors away. Ana had always thought Dale was overly vigilant because he kept a handgun in his nightstand. Nobody needed weapons at the ready in a safe, small city in Idaho, Ana had thought at the time. This was not Los Angeles.
That was then. Now, she realized, if anyone could help her husband and her two older children get out of the house alive, it was Dale Hatcher.
“Dale!” she screamed his name, as she ran into the middle of the street, hoping he would hear. “DALE! April! Somebody, please. Help!”
The gunman threw Robert against the wall. The young father charged back at him. Struggling for control of the weapon, they knocked over dressers and lamps.
Robert was stunned at the strength of the tall rangy intruder, who kept coming at him, kept pounding him. Here he was, a six-foot, 205-pound, fit young man and this guy tossed him around like he was a kid.
Robert gave the shotgun a quick jerk, which forced the intruder back against a dresser. They continued to wrestle. He was giving Ana valuable time. Holding onto the barrel, he made one continuous swing all away around and hit the man in the back of the head. The intruder fell backwards but still, did not go down. The gun flew out of reach.
The intruder seemed oblivious to pain and super-humanly strong. What kind of drugs was this guy on?
He thought of his older kids. Not sure if they were still in the house, he knew if he ran to their rooms, he’d lead the intruder right to them. Leaving without knowing where they were was the hardest decision he’d ever make, but if he was going to save his family, he had to get help.
Ana has made it only as far as the next door neighbors, John and Linda Gregan. “Let me in. Let me in.”
As she twisted the knob, John Gregan opened the door. Between sobs, she explained to the retired couple about the intruder who had held her and Robert at gunpoint, how she’d escaped and that she believed her husband might still be fighting or held hostage with their two kids.
Linda Gregan comforted the young woman and helped her into a purple velour bathrobe to replace the worn patchwork quilt Ana had wrapped around herself. John Gregan grabbed his cell phone and called 911. He looked at the clock. The time was 3:01 a.m.
The 911 dispatcher picked up, but put him on hold. It was probably seconds, but it seemed like forever before she came back on the line.
Hearing the young woman’s cries in the background, the dispatcher told Gregan to take her to whatever room was farthest from her own house, and stay away from the windows. She also advised him to turn out all the lights so that the intruder, if he came looking, wouldn’t guess where she was hiding.
Ana huddled in the Gregans’ large walk-in closet. Somewhat calmer now, and full of gratitude to her neighbors, Ana listened for the gunshot she dreaded would come at any moment.
And the baby in her arms wouldn’t stop crying.
A scream woke Dale Hatcher from a sound sleep. He couldn’t tell whether it was a woman or a child. Groggy, still in his boxers, he headed for the door. Out in the street, he saw his friend and neighbor, Robert Mandziara.
Robert yelled that there was an intruder in his house. He was going back in and needed help.
Racing back inside his own house, Dale grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun, and pulled on a pair of shorts.
“Call 911,” he hollered to his wife, as he ran back out the door.
Precious seconds had passed since Robert left the house. As he headed for his garage, through the garage window, he saw the intruder come in from the laundry room.
Dale Hatcher came running toward him, a pistol and a shotgun in his hands. He tossed Robert the shotgun. Robert told him where the intruder was. Quickly, the two men decided to trap him there and make sure he couldn’t get back into the house where the kids were.
It had been slow at the Pocatello Police headquarters. With the sergeant on vacation, Corporal Trent Whitney was in charge.
Whitney walked over to the dispatch center to tell them he’d be out back cooking his dinner if they needed him. He fired up the grill and tossed on a piece of salmon.
We have a 911 coming in, said one of the two dispatchers. The dispatcher’s tone told Whitney it was serious. The second call raised the flag from serious to urgent.
Both related to events in the same general area: around Sonoma Street in the Satterfield district. Details were sketchy: one dispatcher said the caller stated there were two men out on the street with firearms. And there was a lot of yelling going on.
Whitney did not yet know if the two calls were related to the same incident. No time to find out. He and his team of four officers grabbed their gear, raced to their squad cars and headed for Satterfield.
While Robert covered the garage door, Dale Hatcher, pistol in hand, went through the front door of his friend’s house. He knew the floor plan of the house. It was the same as his. He found his way easily in the dark, moving quickly through the front door, down the foyer, past the living room, and then turned left, into the laundry room.
He stood at the door knowing that, past the entry, there were three steps down to the garage level. In one motion, he turned the doorknob and switched on the lights. The gunman was crouching on the floor behind a bench, pointing the gun upwards at Dale.
“Don’t move,” said the intruder, “or I’ll take your legs off.”
Dale Hatcher knew he should take cover but something told him to hold his ground. He raised his 45-calibre pistol.
“Drop the shot gun or I will shoot you,” Dale told the man. Neither one blinked.
Dale repeated the command.
Several heartbeats later, the gunman laid his weapon at his side. He stood and put his hands up, then started backing away to the far side of the garage, where there was another entry door. If he bolted, Robert was there.
Dale moved forward and took possession of the shotgun. Then, the man did something unexpected. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a four-inch army knife, and held the blade to his wrist.
“Go ahead and kill me,” he said, insisting he’d be better off. And despite Dale’s repeated commands, he refused to drop the knife.
Cpl. Trent Whitney sped the five miles toward the area, followed by four other officers in their squad cars.
Whitney pulled up one block away, ran to the back of his squad car, opened the trunk, and pulled out his AR-15 assault rifle. He loaded the magazine, and charged the weapon while Officer Jake Schubert grabbed a shotgun. Three other officers, armed with duty pistols, converged, then all drove another 200 yards to the intersection of Sonoma and Hillview.
As Whitney got out of his squad car, assault rifle slung on his shoulder, he saw a man run toward him, wearing a robe.
Robert told them the story and explained that he and a neighbor had trapped the intruder, but two of his kids were still in the house.
Whitney followed Robert to the house. He called to Dale to let him know they were coming in.
Then Whitney entered. He kept his assault rifle pointed at the suspect, told him not to move and to put the knife down slowly. Instead, the man lifted the knife to his neck, pointing the tip to his jugular.
As Cpl. Whitney negotiated with the intruder in the garage, Dale and another man turned into the house to look for the two older kids. Amazingly, the little boy was still asleep in his bed. Dale went to get the little girl, who was awake, but safe and quiet in her room. The children were taken to Dale’s house and Robert went in search of Ana and the baby.
Because John and Linda Gregan’s bedroom faced away from the street, Ana knew nothing of what was going on in her house. They hadn’t heard sirens but, at least, they hadn’t heard gunshots. John again called 911. It seemed to Ana that he was on the phone for an excruciatingly long time.
Then, at last, the words she had prayed she would hear. It was over. Robert was all right.
Out in the street, police car lights were flashing; at first she didn’t know where to look.
Then, she saw Robert come running across the front yard. She ran to him and threw herself into his arms. They just stood there, holding each other and sobbing.
“The kids are OK,” he said. “Everyone’s OK.”
It was an hour before police were able to end the standoff. The intruder continued to hold the knife to his jugular. He alternated between threatening to kill himself and demanding that the cops shoot him.
Finally, when one officer created a distraction, another officer got close enough to hit the man with a taser.
He was charged with burglary, kidnapping, assault with intent to commit robbery, and methamphetamine possession.
As it happened, Pocatello had just hired a new chief of police, who was on his way to Idaho from Orlando when the invasion occurred, but got delayed by a snowstorm in Wyoming. His first question was, “How many are dead?”
None, he was told.
“Well, that’s a surprise,” he said, reflecting on the scope of the intrusion and standoff. “Where I come from, usually two or three people die.”
Captain Steve Findley credits Robert and Ana Mandziara’s quick thinking and courage for their family’s survival.