DEMON IN THE PARKING LOT
It happened on an exceptionally warm & sunny day in May over 20 years ago. Two decades is a pretty long time, so one might expect that some details have been auto erased from my memory bank; however, this was a day like no other, & one that I have replayed & relived so many times that there is no way it can ever be deleted. It is etched into my memory alongside other events of significant proportion, such as the day I got baptized, the day I got married, & the days my children were born. The underlying difference is that each of those days were a cause for celebration & this day most definitely did not fall into that category – at least not at first.
I was on sabbatical from my real estate job, & working part-time retail, so I did not have to work that day. My son was only 11 months old, & my daughter was not yet 4 years old at the time, so I had my hands full during the day; therefore, I tried to be as productive & run as many errands as possible whenever my daughter was attending pre-school. That is exactly what I was doing on this beautiful, yet very warm, Spring day. My son was safely strapped in the back seat of my new teal colored Plymouth Voyager mini-van when I pulled into the parking space that was as close as possible (without being in a handicapped space) to the entrance of the Service Merchandise store, where I wanted to purchase a double stroller because we had a family trip planned in a few weeks. As I placed the van into Parking gear, I noticed a tall, unkept looking man approaching my driver’s door. It immediately struck me that something was amiss, because he had on a long-sleeved flannel shirt, & it was scorching hot outside, even though it was May. Additionally, his appearance was noteworthy because he had on those new baggy shorts that fell down below the waistline, exposing the upper portion of the men’s underwear, & at that time I had not seen many guys dressed in them. I think they were called “Jams” back then? Instinctively, I waited to see why he was approaching my door prior to opening it, thinking that he was probably panhandling for money to go to the liquor store, as we were not too far in distance from both the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen & the Downtown Rescue Mission. I have always had a special heart for homeless people, & have been known to give them money, but I had no spare cash on me, & besides, I did not want to jeopardize my baby’s safety in any way. I was going to politely tell him through the window that I was unable to assist him, but what I saw next paralyzed me with fear, & filled me with a very sick sense of dread. This man, who had long, dark, stringy hair, got right up to my van window, & the expression on his face, & most importantly his eyes were something that I will never, ever forget.
I have told this story many times, but I have never written about it until now, because it always makes me very uneasy to recall specific moments in it, & this is one of those. Additionally, I have been concerned that some people will not “understand” what happened there that day. When I looked into that man’s eyes, & rather than the vacant look of a mentally challenged street person, or the desperate, pleading look of a hungry man, or the somewhat glazed look of an alcoholic needing a drink, I saw pure, unadulterated EVIL. I do not know HOW I knew this, except it was unlike anything I have ever seen in my entire life, & I though I have known some less than nice individuals both before & since that time, I have never encountered such a cold & menacing stare again. Our eyes met, locked, & for a few moments, I saw a man who wanted to extract from me everything that I could possibly give to him.
I gasped aloud as a shiver ran both up & back down my spine, & the hairs on my neck, arms & legs stood at attention in a well –deserved warning to keep my distance. I did not even have to think about it, but my hand went immediately back to the gear shift, & I placed the vehicle into Reverse as I uttered aloud: “Dear Lord, PLEASE KEEP US SAFE from harm!!” The man’s gaze did not falter. It was a hard look, totally devoid of any personality, yet at the same time, full of malice. I was 100% certain that, though I knew this was a man comprised of human flesh & bones, I was looking straight into the eyes of the Devil himself. It is hard to describe the physical feelings that ran through my body simultaneously: nausea, light-headedness, paralysis, & chills all come to memory. Yet an adrenaline surge caused me to start backing out of the space, & so the man continued on his way.
I breathed an audible sigh of relief as I watched him walk out to the 18 wheeler truck that was parked out close to the Parkway on an undeveloped outparcel of this strip center. When you experience a stab of fear followed by intense relief, your brain does not necessarily think clearly. I remember thinking that he must be going out to the truck to check it in before it unloaded merchandise at the store. (Obviously, this makes no sense, & I, with my background in commercial real estate, should have realized that any truck wanting to unload merchandise would be behind the store at their loading dock, not sitting way out by the highway; however, this is what I thought at that time.) So, thinking that perhaps I had misunderstood what had just transpired, I eased back the rest of the way into the parking space, turned off the engine, & opened the door to get out of the van. I glanced toward the truck, to see that man walking very quickly back toward me, & his eyes & facial expression made me think of a Demon. I slammed the door, locked it, & quickly placed my keys back into the ignition & re-started the van. Seeing this, the man veered away from my van, & walked to the sidewalk in front of the store before disappearing into what was then a gap between Service Merchandise & the Army Surplus Store next door. “Thank you, God, for keeping us safe,” I prayed aloud again. While I was a Christian, at that point in time it was never my custom to pray aloud when I was alone but I felt prompted to do so. I sat there for nearly 10 minutes, to make sure that he was not going to re-appear. Finally, I decided that he must have gone back there to drink or do drugs, & it was obvious that he had now forgotten me. So I got out of the van, & went around to the middle passenger door to unstrap my baby son from his car seat. I had him in my arms, & was reaching for my diaper bag, which had my check book in it, when I looked up & saw this same man, with a crazed, unearthly expression contorting his face, headed back towards me, & this time, he was RUNNING!!! “Dear God, please keep us from harm!” I prayed aloud again as I literally threw my son into the floor of the van (no time to strap him into his seat) & jumped in behind him. I was in such a hurry that the diaper bag got caught, & as I slammed the door again a sharp metal prong made rough contact with my thigh, leaving a grapefruit sized bruise that lasted for a couple of months. I locked the door, got upright on my knees to see where he was, then grabbed my keys & my son & climbed into the driver’s seat. I was preparing to drive away, without placing my son back into his car seat. However, what I saw next froze me in my tracks.
My son was crying loudly, not from being hurt, but because of the abrupt way that I had tossed him into the van had scared him. I was trembling like I had never trembled before. Shaking uncontrollably, I finally jammed the keys once again into the ignition, only to look ahead & see him attacking a lady that was older than me. He was wrestling with her, trying to shove her back inside her shiny new silver Buick Regal sedan that was parked facing me, but across the main aisle into the parking lot, & one space over to my right. The woman was resisting him, & putting up quite a fight, but I had a very sick feeling in the pit of my stomach: there was no way that she could win that fight without some sort of assistance. Unfortunately, I had my baby in my arms, so there was no way that I could help her fight, & besides, this guy was not only very large, but he had the added adrenaline that only a mindless, crazy lunatic possesses when they are on a rampage. At one point, he had her nearly shoved back into the car, but she somehow broke her way out of it, & she was pushing, clawing, shoving & hitting him as he was trying to manhandle her back in there. All I knew to do was PRAY: “Dear God, please SAVE HER!! Please send help! Dear God, please SAVE HER! Please do not let her get hurt!” Over & over & over again until I saw him tear the shirt off of her shoulder. “Think, Lou! THINK!! What can you do??” My baby was still crying, & as I was still praying aloud, I turned on my headlights & sat on my horn. I mean I pushed down on that horn & did not let off of it, so it would not sound like a car alarm. And I kept praying out loud, over & over & over as I watched the drama continue to unfold in what seemed to be almost slow motion.
No other new vehicles had arrived in the parking lot since I had been there, trust me, I know because I had sat there listening to the radio & observing everything while waiting to make sure it was all right to get out of the van & go into the store. So I have no earthly idea where this man came from, only that he appeared suddenly, seemingly from out of the blue. He was a very small man, short in stature, with sandy brown hair, & was not very muscular. I thought that he was no match for the monster he was trying to fight. The demonic man was still attacking the lady, & the man who had come to her rescue was somehow able to keep him from shoving one or both of them back into that Buick. I just kept honking my horn & praying – back then Moms did not carry cell phones in their purses, & since I was only working part time, I did not own one of those devices, which were still relatively expensive for the general public to own.
I then saw another man running from the store to assist the lady & the gentleman who had stepped in to help her. An amazing struggle ensued, & the man was angrier than ever, so it took both of the men to pull him away from the woman. After they did that, the maniacal man jumped into her car, & the other 2 men tried their best to drag him back out of the car, but to no avail. He started driving that car straight towards my van. Not only was I witnessing one of my city’s first, if not THE first carjacking of that nature, but I was about to be run into by the man who was not driving straight in his attempt to flee. So I did the only thing I could do in that situation: I prayed yet again. As the car barely missed my van, I jumped out, crying babe still in my arms, & I was able to get the ladies’ car tag number. I still remember the first 4 letters & numbers: 47 SR … I started repeating that tag number aloud over & over, & my baby began to calm down. Astoundingly, woman talking on a cell phone pulled into the lot a couple of spaces from where I was standing. Her window was cracked so I ran over to her & just kept repeating that tag number. “WHAT?” She asked? “Call the POLICE now! Give them this tag number – 47 SR …”. Maybe it was because I was a female, or perhaps it was because she saw my flustered little boy, but she called the police without further question. There must have been one or more units at the gas station about a block away, because they gave immediate pursuit.
Within a couple more minutes, a patrol car came to the parking lot where we were all standing, checking on the lady who had been attacked. By Divine intervention, she was unharmed save for a few bruises & her torn shirt. The police officers took all of our statements, & the man who had come running out of the store revealed himself to be the Assistant Store Manager. He said at first he looked out & saw what was going on, & thought it was “just a domestic dispute”, but when he heard my persistent horn, he knew it must be something else, which prompted him to run out & help. (Sadly, back in those days, & even today, many people will not get involved in domestic disputes.)
The police officers said that they had apprehended the suspect, but asked us to all remain there for a few more minutes. I knew I needed to go & pick up my daughter soon from pre-school, so I used the phone in the store to call & let them know that I might be a little late, & then I went ahead & purchased the double stroller that I had come to buy. When I came back out of the store, the officer told me, “We got him, so it is safe for you to go home now.” I started questioning the officer, because I was afraid that the man might come after me if I had to testify against him in court. “Ma’am that is not going to happen.” I wondered how he could be so certain, but went to claim my daughter, then headed straight home, with a couple of my errands unfinished, because I was too shaken to go elsewhere.
I was dumbfounded & numb. After I got home I called my husband at that time, then I called a neighbor to tell her what had happened so she could be on the lookout for this man, in case he got out on bail. “Lou,” she said, “They just showed that on TV as Breaking News. He’s dead.” Apparently the man had crashed the lady’s brand new Buick Regal down an embankment during the high speed police chase, & he was killed immediately upon impact because he was not wearing a seatbelt. I called the police to confirm, & they said that they could not release that information to us while we were at the store, due to the fact that they had to await confirmation from the coroner. I broke down sobbing. A man was dead. And I had played a part in his death. I started playing the “WHAT IF” game in my mind: “What if I had left the store the 1st or 2nd times he approached me?” “What if I had not been so set on getting that stroller that day?” “What if I had not gotten that license plate number?” “What if I had not asked that woman to call the police on her cell phone?” “WHAT IF???”
When I read his obituary a couple of days later, I thought I was going to lose it, because I realized that he was survived by people, meaning that, though all I saw was a Demon, he had a mother, a father, & a sister. He was in his late 20’s. He was 6’2” tall, & weighed 225 pounds. He lived in Athens. All of these details I gleaned from newspaper accounts & his obituary. I still have those clippings somewhere, & if I could easily lay my hands on them, I would upload them, but it is probably best to let whatever Demon that possessed him stay dead & buried.
I followed up with the police department, & the detective told me that he had no public history of violence, & the only record he had was for a robbery that was not armed. (I did not recall seeing any weapon on him that day.) And I felt even worse that I had somehow been involved in his death. I broke down crying that Sunday in class, & my class mates assured me that the man was “Evil, & got what he deserved.” I was struggling to make sense of it all. I was the intended victim of, & the witness to a violent crime. I spoke to the lady that he attacked, & she recounted the vile profanity that he used to threaten her, & said that he wanted it ALL: her car, her money, & to rape her. Then it hit me: “WHAT IF he had attacked me, & not her – he would have carjacked my van with MY BABY inside it!!” I did not feel as sorry for him anymore, although I did feel sorry for his bereaved family. I had developed a post-traumatic stress issue: I was afraid to go out alone anymore. But my husband, who I seldom saw eye to eye with, insisted that I go alone, as scheduled, to J,C. Penney’s that Friday to look at baby picture proofs. I did not want to go, & knew I could get a friend to tag along, but I knew that he was right. I needed to face this fear. What were the odds of it happening again? Besides, the worst was over. But I was terrified to go out, so when Friday arrived my first stop was to buy some pepper guard spray. After I went to buy the photos, I went by Service Merchandise to thank the Assistant Manager for his bravery & help. I asked if he knew the name of the other man that had helped him fight off the attacker. “What other man?” he asked me quizzically.
When I got home I called the detective assigned to the case back & asked if he could please get me in touch with the 2nd man. He informed me that he had no record of a 2nd man who helped fight off the attacker. Thinking he did not want to breach privacy, I asked him if he would please call the man off of his statement, & see if that man would call me back instead. “Ma’am, I have no record of any man fighting off the suspect other than the store manager.”
I let this sink in for a bit, I KNOW what I SAW, & it was NOT my imagination!! Did the man flee the scene before the police arrived for some reason? I remembered how he had appeared instantaneously, & seemingly out of nowhere. He had no car. How could he have disappeared without anyone noticing? He was not in the newspaper account, either. (However I only appeared as the “woman he had been watching,” so the article was not a complete & detailed accounting.) Who that man was, how he came to be there, & why he does not appear in any records is a mystery to this day. You are free to draw your own conclusions. I know what I believe happened that day.
I was witness to a battle that was both real & spiritual. I started out praying for the welfare of me & my baby, but ended up interceding on behalf of a total stranger. I battled a demon in that parking lot. Whether he was insane, addicted to drugs, alcohol, or whatever, that man was definitely demon possessed. Though he was human, he was battling demons of his own. And because he was also human, he lost his life in the process. Because I am also only human, I was unable to battle that man or his demon(s) alone, so I called on the only One that I know who can do that. Thankfully, when battling God, the Devil never wins.
I still go to that parking lot on a regular basis: I shop for office supplies at the Office Depot next door. Though I knew that man was dead, for several years after this transpired, though I was armed with my pepper spray, I would always sit & wait until I saw another customer heading into that store before I would exit my vehicle, just in case there was another demon lurking there. For some reason I thought that maybe the Devil has certain areas, people, or places that he targets. And sure enough, the past few months I have found myself fighting yet another spiritual battle on that same spot, although this time it is inside the building, which is now a Church, rather than a store. Long before that Church ever came to be there, or was even in existence, I would pray, whenever I passed that spot, that God would make something GOOD happen on that spot which would eradicate the EVIL that I had witnessed there. I was not thinking about anything specific, let alone a Church, just that I hoped & prayed somehow that God would further claim that spot of ground where lives were forever changed by evil into something good. Never did I imagine that a Church, which has changed immeasurable lives for the better, would spring forth on that same spot.
Last year, I began attending that Church with a tall, large, confident & brave man that I knew would protect me should a demon or man possessed appear on the scene, so I was not concerned about what I might meet in that parking lot. Yet when circumstances changed & I began going there by myself, I felt a familiar twinge of fear tug on my heart. The space between the buildings where the man went to hide, watch & wait for his opportunity to strike? It is now inside the building. I have sat inside that sanctuary, paralyzed by fear, wondering exactly where inside that building is the same spot where Evil was lurking that day. The sanctuary is pretty dark during the service, which can be disconcerting for someone like myself that grew up in a more traditional Church, & at times it made me uncomfortable when I first started attending there, primarily because of the crime I once witnessed there. Not knowing not what to do, except to pray to God to please keep me safe, that is what I would do. Eventually I realized that God is still stronger than any demon, & that “wherever two or more are gathered in His name, He is there.”
I have also gone to task with the Devil there in that sanctuary, on behalf of others that I have witnessed battling demons of their own. Doing battles with demons is very scary business, let me tell you, because they have nothing to lose, & do not care who gets hurt in the process. But God has convinced me that I do not need to be afraid. The leaders of this Church actually have the guts to talk about how Jesus & His disciples cast out demons, healed the sick, & other things that are found in the New Testament. And they are not fearful, for they know that God has the power & authority to cast out demons. I continue to go to that place & pray for people I know who are plagued by the demons of Disease, Depression, Alcoholism, Infidelity, Drug-Addiction, the Past, etc., knowing that demons CAN BE defeated. I have witnessed it first hand. Now, whenever I find myself in that parking lot alone, on the few occasions when that incident crosses my mind, I smile to myself, & think, “Get behind me where you belong, Satan! God has my back!! We’ve beaten you before, & we can beat you again, so you might as well give up & go away.” I have even volunteered at the Food Distribution Center there for the homeless, knowing that some of them are battling some of these same demons. But it is like most anything else, once you have faced the fear, it no longer owns you, & I know that God still has my back! And something else I want to share from that incident – you can intercede in prayer for people when they cannot hear you, & do not even know that you are doing it, & those prayers can still be answered!! I saw it happen on that May Day on 1994, & I have seen it happen many times since then, as well.
Please know that one day, you, too, may find yourself face to face with a demon in a parking lot, inside a building, or perhaps even inside yourself. I hope that what I experienced never happens to you, but there are all sorts of demons in this world. But guess what? I know Someone that will fight for you. He may even send you a mysterious helper to battle alongside you. And guess what else? If you have the right back up, the Devil NEVER wins!!!
“We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us; For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all of Creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:37-39
Note: This is a TRUE story, & the events are all factual.