Surviving a Home Invasion

Your home is your castle.  It is the last refuge – your private escape from the world.  But what happens when that last barrier is breached and a stranger forces their way in?

A home invasion is quite simply a robbery that takes place in your residence.  Robberies at any location are extremely dangerous and account for almost half of the homicides committed during a felony crime.  Not only are they very dangerous, it may be much more common than you think.  Nearly one out of five robberies occurs in residences according to FBI crime data.  In contrast, bank robberies make up only about 2% of all robberies.

Recently, the second suspect in one extremely nefarious home invasion was sentenced to death.  In this case, the home invasion did not start at the victims’ home, but while they were at a grocery store on a Sunday afternoon.  The suspect, Jason Komisarjevsky saw two of the victims, Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her 11-year old daughter, Michaela Petit, and followed them home.  Via texts, Jason contacted his accomplice, Steven Hayes, and they planned to return later, primarily to get drinking money, or so they claimed.

At 2 a.m., the suspects returned to the home, entering through an unlocked basement door.  Upon finding William Petit sleeping on a couch, the two beat him with a baseball bat and tied him up in the basement before attacking Jennifer, Michaela and a second daughter, 17-year old Hayley.  Komisarjevsky and Hayes could not find the cash or jewelry that they had hoped, but found a bank statement for an account with several thousand dollars.  The two waited in the home until the banks opened.  Hayes took Jennifer to the bank where she was able to alert the teller to what was going on before returning to the home with Hayes.  The teller called the police and they began setting up a perimeter around the neighborhood. 

News photo of Petit family
Sadly, as the police officers surrounded the area, the suspects escalated the crime further.  The two sexually assaulted Jennifer and Michaela.  Meanwhile, William Petit escaped to a neighbor’s home to get help.  The suspects found William gone and bound the three remaining victims, doused them with gasoline and set the home on fire.  They were arrested moments later as they tried to drive away in the family’s car.  Jennifer and her two daughters all died at the scene.  Eventually, the two suspects were sentenced to death, a sentence that will probably take years before finally being carried out, unfortunately.
Crime scene photo of Petit home

In tragic situations like this, it is hard to go through the details and look for lessons learned.  Analyzing incidents after the fact may feel like a criticism of victims.  While there are valuable crime prevention lessons in this case, it should not take away from the horror of this crime, nor take away the fact that two people alone are to be blamed one hundred percent – Steven Hayes and Jason Komisarjevsky.  However, there are many more evildoers out there, who may target anyone, at any time, and it is important to learn what might be done differently in the future.

·        Awareness.  Being alert to your surroundings and the people around you is one of the most important security or crime prevention tips for almost any situation.  In this case, the suspect watched the victims in the store and followed their car home.  There is an old saying, once is happenstance; twice, coincidence; and three times, enemy action.  If you keep seeing the same person and they seem to be watching you, then you should go to red alert.  Do not dismiss it.  When driving, check the rear view mirror and look for any cars that seem to be following you.  As you get into a neighborhood, it should become even more suspicious and noticeable.  If in doubt, drive around a couple of blocks in an adjoining neighborhood.  Then someone following will become obvious.  And do not think that this never happens.  Even police officers have been followed home from their departments in order to be targeted, sometimes simply because crooks know that they have guns and want the chance to steal them.  If you are being followed, drive to a crowded area or store and call the police.  Provide all the details you can on the suspect vehicle, including license plate and driver description.

·        Lock doors.  Crooks often become crooks because they are not motivated.  The most common way into a home for a burglary is through unlocked or open doors and windows.  It is the easiest way in.  It is also the easiest to fix.  Make it a habit to lock all doors when leaving or before going to bed.  Some professional burglars liked to hit larger, upper-end homes around dinner when everyone was occupied or not paying attention.  Don’t forget to check windows as well and make sure that all lower-level windows are locked.  Periodically, walk around the house and look at possible ways that someone could get in via upper windows also.  Leaving ladders lying around or items such as trellises, trees adjacent to the house or even trashcans could be used to reach upper levels.  Not only do locks deter or delay a crook, the sound caused breaking in could alert you and give you the chance to retreat to a safe room and call police.

·        Never trust the suspect.  Many suspects will try to convince their victims that continued cooperation will keep them safe, but are really just looking for collaboration to make their crime easier.  When a suspect has made threats or is holding a deadly weapon, assume that they are ready and willing to follow through.  No matter what they say or what excuses they use, consider them very dangerous.  In the Connecticut home invasion, Jennifer Hawke-Petit told the bank teller that the suspects only seemed to want money and hadn’t hurt them.  She may have inadvertently downplayed the danger.

·        Always look for a way to turn the tables.  In this case, once at the bank, Jennifer could have told the suspect that she would not get any money out until the rest of the family was brought safely to the bank where they could be released before even withdrawing the money.  If the suspects were truly after money, they may have given in.  If not, then Jennifer could still shift the balance by refusing to leave until police were there and keep the suspects separated.  The suspect at the home may have panicked and tried to escape without raping or killing anyone, knowing the police were on the way (assuming Steven called him).

·        Do not depend on the police.  In movies and on TV, anytime the police are called, they roll up with lights and sirens, signaling that all is well and just in time for the end credits to pop up on the screen.  In reality, law enforcement may have information that is incomplete or sketchy.  As happened in this home invasion, the response might be more of a focus on setting up a perimeter while trying to get more details.  If you are in a dangerous position and the police are not there, remember that they may be trying to gather more information.  Never give up and keep fighting no matter what happens when your life is threatened.

Home invasions are a very dangerous form of robbery, one that can end tragically.  The good news is that some basic security measures will help protect you and your family and minimize your risk and, ultimately, make your home a real castle in a perilous world.


Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense.  He has extensive experience in law enforcement as well as security management.  Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces.  To learn more visit 

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  1. This is a great example of how something as simple as going to the store or out shopping can attract the attention of someone who may follow and target you for a robbery or attack, then or even later.

    Sadly, what might have been just a home break in and or robbery ended up in the death of the wife and children and left a husband and father to suffer the rest of his life for what happened.

  2. I keep going back to the idea that if the basement door had been locked this whole tragedy might have been averted. After that, the apparent absence of resistance speaks to a lack of training on the part of the Petit women. Simple but effective self defense programs like FAST Defense (there are others and I have no financial interest in this particular one) might have given one or more of the women a chance to escape and summon help. In this sort of gravest extreme, a kitchen knife, a pepper spray, or a pistol in the right hands might also have made a difference, but only if each of the Petits had proper mindset. This was a very sad case that lends itself to several useful "what if" questions.

  3. I could not agree more with both of you. Some minor changes could have prevented the whole thing. It is too bad that so many individuals do not prepare for the 'unthinkable' and go through some thought on how to protect themselves in different situations. I truly hope that some of the suggestions here will help someone else avoid becoming a victim in the future.