When an alleged stalker refused to stop harassing 23-year-old Alissa Blanton, she went to the courts to get an emergency protection order.
Her request was denied. A week later, she was dead. The 61-year-old man Blanton had apparently tried to get the protection order against allegedly gunned down the newlywed in a parking lot near the University of Florida before turning the gun on himself.
According to Dr. Michael Welner, one of America's top forensic psychiatrists, there are several clues to help distinguish the merely annoying from legitimate stalkers that present a serious threat and several steps you can take if you think you are dealing with a stalker.
Before deciding what to do about a potential stalker, Welner said you need to ask two questions: One, do you feel you're being stalked? And two, do you feel it's dangerous?
"In the first [instance], what you have to do is convey to the person who's being a nuisance that you do not want to have any further contact with him or her," Welner said. "Do it in writing because you must create a paper trail for legal reasons."
Welner said the message should be clear: you do not want contact with that person anymore and continuing to seek out contact will be stalking and the police could become involved.
"That way you put someone on notice," he said. "They have to say 'Do I want an arrest on my record? Do I want to have legal trouble?' That may be enough.
If that's not enough, you could be dealing with a legitimate threat, Welner said. Here are some other signs to watch out for in a potential stalker:
History of stalking, violence, criminal conduct and substance abuse
Uses several different stalking methods
Breeches court orders
Frequent trespasses or other intrusions escalating
If you truly are in danger, according to Welner creating distance is the most important step to take -- either by moving yourself, bringing in the authorities or getting the person locked up.
"The message should be: This town's not big enough for the two of us," Welner said.
If the harasser will not leave and a court order of protection is not respected, Welner said the potential victim should leave.
If that's not possible, protection is the priority, Welner said. Leaving home and going to work are the two most vulnerable points for potential victims.
"Let me put it this way: in the movies, you see people run and hide. Well, if you feel you're in danger, then you've got to run. You can't stay where you are. I'm not suggesting people panic, but if they believe there's a danger and the local authorities are not resolving that danger, then you have to leave for your own safety," Welner said.