I knew better than to visit a walk-up ATM after dark. I was anxious to meet some friends at a trendy new bistro, though. I wanted to have cash just in case they didn’t accept cards. There was a line at the ATM, and it was on a crowded and well-lit city sidewalk. I was lulled into a false sense of security.
The attack came right after I entered my PIN. I suddenly saw a spray nozzle in front of my eyes. I heard it discharge, and my whole face started to sting. I tried to keep my eyes open long enough to hit “Cancel” and retrieve my card.
I should have screamed.
Apparently, I was too calm and collected, because the spray nozzle came into my face and sprayed again. Now, I absolutely could not keep my eyes open without extreme pain.
Failing a scream, I should have called out for help or at least told people what happened. I stumbled my way home, bumping into people. A few of these people became angry and yelled at me, “Watch where you’re going!” I was embarrassed, and all I did was mumble, “Sorry.”
I should have told someone to dial 911 at the scene of the crime.
I did this after I got home and rinsed my eyes with cold water and was able to see again. The police came over and took a report, but my assailant was long gone. I was not able to give a very good description. Witnesses at the scene of the crime could have described my attacker better.
The police speculated the attack was part of a gang initiation. They explained I had been attacked with pepper spray. They said my face would swell up and be red for a few days, but there should be no permanent damage. (There wasn’t any.)
My immediate regret was not knowing how to fight. I wished I had put the attacker on the ground, like in the movies. In hindsight, I didn’t know where the attack came from. I likely would have lashed out at the wrong person.
The only good news: After I spoke with the police, I went back to the ATM. My card was still in it, and no money had been withdrawn. I call this a miracle. My deepest thank-yous go out to whoever saw my card in the ATM and resisted the urge to take advantage of the situation.
This happened in 1991 on Market Street in San Francisco, but it could happen anywhere. Keep your wits about you and ATM safely. A midnight run to the market, or even meeting friends for a meal is not worth being attacked at an ATM.
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