How Do You Stop a Stalker From Killing You?

They may differ in the details, but the crimes follow the same depressing pattern.

A woman is physically or verbally harassed by an ex-boyfriend, obtains a restraining order, changes her phone number and moves to another residence, but she still ends up getting killed by him.

In the last two weeks, two such killings on opposite sides of the country have made headlines for their brutality and poignancy.

And, in their tragic inevitability, such crimes raise the question: Even with a restraining order, what can you really do to stop a violent ex-lover who's determined to harm you?

The sad truth is that law enforcement officers can only do so much and that your safety rests largely in your own hands.

After months of stalking, Rebecca Griego, a 26-year-old staffer at the University of Washington, was shot and killed by her ex-beau, Jonathan Rowan, on Monday morning, before he fatally shot himself.

After months of escalating events, in which Rowan harassed her sister and threatened to kidnap her dogs, Griego obtained a restraining order to keep the man 1,000 feet away from her and her sister.

Although Griego moved, changed her cell phone number and posted his picture around her office, Rowan violated the order and verbally threatened Griego twice in the weeks before he killed her.

University of Washington police were told about the threats, but they did not put her under surveillance or provide an escort.

"Would we like to be there for every person who has a protection order? Of course," said Ray Wittmier, the deputy sheriff of the UW police. "But unless we have thousands of officers, it's not possible. In general, we don't do surveillance or provide an escort. Here in King County last year, there were 5,000 protection orders issued and I can guarantee that every one of those people was fearful of who they obtain an order against. The challenge is to pick out the person who's going to go over the edge. It's almost impossible to predict."

Unfortunately, much of the responsibility rests with the individual being harassed, Wittmier said.

"Typically, the petitioner has to change what they do, where they live, the way they commute to work. But that other person typically has some mental health issues and trying to get them to change their behavior is a lot harder."

Some women take extreme measures to avoid their harassers.

"A restraining order is nothing but a piece of paper," said Cheryl Shuman, who went underground and created her own identity, getting a false driver's license and passport, after she continued to receive threats.

"I'm alive today because of what I did," said Shuman, who works in product placement in the entertainment industry. "I really believe that I wouldn't be here if I hadn't taken the measures I had."

Shuman's advice: Keep a video journal that documents your experiences, tell as many people as possible, keep a dialogue with local reporters about what's going on, try to find a domestic violence shelter and, "Get the hell away him."

Bureaucratic incompetence may even put the petitioner in harm's way. Last month, Natasha Ramen was allegedly stabbed and killed outside her home by Hemant K. Megnath.

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