A man broke into my house and held me at gunpoint. He was never found and I still live with the trauma

A man broke into my house and held me at gunpoint. He was never found and I still live with the trauma

Every decision feels like life or death in such a volatile situation (Picture: Alex Hearn)

Padding out of my bedroom, I headed towards the stairs to go to the kitchen to get a snack.

It was early evening, around 1990, and I was 15 years old. My sister was out and my dad hadn’t got back from work yet. It was just me and my mum home.  

Up until that moment, it had been a nice, normal night. Completely nondescript. But that was all about to change. Because waiting for me in the shadows near the top of the stairs was a well-built man wearing a balaclava. Holding a gun.

‘Come here and do what I tell you,’ he ordered, pulling my mum into view. Pointing the gun at her head, he made the situation crystal clear. ‘I have your mother.’

It is almost impossible to describe how the mind comes to terms with the shock of a nightmarish new reality interrupting everyday life.

I lived in the leafy London suburbs with my parents, sister and cats. Our home was the last place I expected to be ambushed by a gunman. That was the type of thing that happened in the movies.

As the shocking moment of realisation kicked in, I spent those split seconds trying to process the possibilities and their implications.

Every decision feels like life or death in such a volatile situation and you’re faced with stark alternatives.

Should we fight or cooperate? He seemed willing to hurt, even kill, us, but did he really plan to?

But one thing was apparent. Our lives were no longer in our own hands. Instead, they were precariously balanced, at the whim of an armed and faceless criminal.

We probably seemed like an easy target, where no-one else could hear us (Picture: Alex Hearn)

He demanded to know where the jewellery and valuables were.

But even after my mother showed him everything we had, he accused us of holding out on him. ‘Where’s the rest of it?’ he yelled. ‘Show me where you keep it!’

He was becoming increasingly agitated. It felt like something had to give.

As the threats grew, my mother shouted back at him. ‘There isn’t anything else, I’ve told you! That’s all we have!’

He led us into a large cupboard, where the washing machine was, and he shut us inside, explaining he would kill us if we left.

After a few minutes of listening at the door and a frantic whispered discussion, we made the decision to try to get out.

We gently opened the door, terrified that at any moment, we could get shot at close range. Then, when there was no sign of the armed robber, we ran to my dad’s office where the landline was.

My new reality was that I was no longer safe in my own home (Picture: Alex Hearn)

Thankfully, out of the window, we saw the man running away. Within seconds he was out of sight. The relief was staggering.

After calling 999, we sat in shock. Mum tried to call Dad at work but he’d already left.

A policeman on a bicycle turned up about an hour later. By the time he radioed in and the sniffer dogs and helicopter arrived, it was too late.

We already knew the gunman was well-prepared and knew the layout of the house, as he’d pointed us to the bedroom, We later discovered he had been studying us because his discarded cigarettes were found.

Our house was slightly off the beaten track, surrounded by trees. We probably seemed like an easy target, where no-one else could hear us.

Still though, he was determined, managing a difficult climb up a drain pipe and then breaking the lock and coming in through a first-floor window.

We never found out who our gunman was and he was never caught. There was no closure.

My new reality was that I was no longer safe in my own home. It was a feeling that would never truly leave and, if anything, got worse over the years.

I’m still wary of other people and never feel totally relaxed in my own home (Picture: Alex Hearn)

Trauma can manifest in unexpected ways and afterwards it can be difficult to readjust to normal life because you don’t see things the same way again.

My mother kept the lights on in the house so there were no dark corners for anyone to hide in, and bought a large dog.

I’d feel anxious, and be unable to sleep at night, constantly alert.

Unfortunately, back then therapy wasn’t as commonplace as it is now, so we didn’t have support to get through the trauma, so it followed me through to adulthood.

As an adult, I used to get angry when people rang my doorbell unexpectedly or were hanging around outside my home. I’m almost 50 and this feeling has only started to wear off recently.

I’m still wary of other people though, and never feel totally relaxed in my own home – despite the security I’ve invested in.

I imagine it must be nice to feel that way but that man took that away from me, and my family.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

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