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Split-Second Inspiration

The inspiring story of a military-trained pilot who credits faith and patience with saving her life.

Charity says her faith saved the day.

I’m good under pressure.

Part of that comes from my dad, a pastor, who taught me the best defense against fear is faith. He’s talked in his sermons about it. I didn’t expect to never be afraid, but I believed if I put my trust in God, he’d help me work through my fear and do what needed to be done.

Then there were the six years I served in the military. I learned to handle myself in all kinds of situations. The key was being prepared, so I could remain in control even if everything around me was going haywire.

Those lessons came in handy after I fulfilled my term of enlistment and pursued my dream of becoming a pilot. I enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, one of the top flight-training schools in the country. My hope was to reenlist once I finished my degree, then earn my wings as a military pilot.

My flight instructor was surprised at how easily I took to flying. He took me up in a Cessna 172 and was amazed to find I had fun practicing stalls. Stalling an airplane has to do with air speed. It’s when you lose lift over the wings. Suddenly, the plane’s dropping out of the sky.

Most people flip out—a primal fear of falling. Not me. You do stalls in training so you know how to avoid them—and recover from them if they inadvertently happen—in real life. To me, practicing was a chance to become a better pilot and to experience the incredible feeling of pulling my plane out of a stall and soaring into the sky again.

Nothing, though, could have prepared me for what happened on February 12, 2008. Class had ended for the day. I hopped into my red 2006 Ford Mustang, got on the highway and headed toward my apartment. A car pulled in behind me. I hummed along to a gospel tune on the radio. Turning onto my street, I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed the car behind me turn too. Is he following me? Nah, I was just hyper vigilant from my military training. They trained us to always be alert.

Still, I said a quick prayer. My apartment complex was just ahead. I slowed and signaled, then turned into the parking lot. I checked the rearview again. The car went into the lot across the street. Nothing to worry about. I pulled into a parking space and killed the engine.

I was about to open the door when I saw a man approaching, wearing shades and a black hoodie. Right away I knew he was trouble. It was way too warm for a sweatshirt. Quickly I assessed my options. A car on my left. A wall in front of me. I had two choices: Restart the engine, back up and floor it, or get out of the car and flee on foot. I ruled out the car—I didn’t want to risk being trapped inside. I decided to see what he wanted, then make up my mind: flight or fight. Grabbing my keys and cell, I got out.

That’s when the man pointed a gun at me. “Give me your purse!”

I said, “I don’t have a purse.”

He kept coming. “Give me your purse!” He stuck the gun in my stomach. I could see he was nervous. I didn’t want to upset him. He reached over and snatched my keys and phone and popped the trunk. He forced me to the back of my car. “Get in.” I faced the trunk. I knew from a military briefing that if I got inside, I’d probably wind up dead. I hesitated. “Get in,” he snarled. “Now!”

I did—but only because I remembered the trunk release. I’d read every word of the Mustang owner’s manual as soon as I got home from buying the car, the same way I studied every gauge and knob and display on the instrument panel of my plane. I knew exactly where the trunk release was.

“Don’t move, don’t make a noise,” he warned. He slammed the trunk shut. Everything went dark. My heart hammered. I was trapped.

Fighting the instinctive panic, I found the trunk release and put my hand on it. Gently, I began to pull. But something stopped me: You have just one chance.

My eyes were adjusting to the darkness. Not that there was much to see. No room to move around either. The carpet was scratchy against my skin.

Pay attention, I told myself. I heard the kidnapper start the car. He put it in reverse. What was he planning to do with me? I shuddered. Had I survived six years on active duty, deployed for four months in Operation Enduring Freedom, with nothing worse than a twisted knee in a volleyball game, only to have my life threatened in some senseless crime? Get a hold of yourself.

I fell back on my faith. You know the fix I’m in, Lord, I prayed. I’m putting all my trust in you. Right there in the trunk, my fear receded. My mind cleared. I knew whatever direction he turned, he’d have to slow down. If he went straight, he’d have to stop at the stop sign. I waited for my chance.

He drove the Mustang forward, then stopped. I heard another car honk. Then he accelerated again. The speed limit was 15 mph. I couldn’t tell what direction we were going. As soon as he slowed down, I pulled the trunk latch. Please let this be the right time, Lord. I pushed the trunk open and jumped out. If I landed wrong, I knew I could hurt myself, maybe fracture a bone.

I landed on my feet. But the force of gravity pulled me backward onto the ground. Immediately I got up. There was a car stopped behind me. I stared into the driver’s eyes. Something told me he was in league with my kidnapper. The driver froze. It seemed like he stared at me forever. Then he turned his wheel. I didn’t hesitate. I took off down the side of the road.

I raced through people’s yards, trying to put distance and objects between the kidnapper and me. I ran back to my apartment complex and beat on doors. One finally opened. An older lady. “I was just carjacked and kidnapped. Can I come in and call 911?” She let me in. I quickly closed the door and locked it. I was on with the 911 operator when there was a knock at the door. “Don’t open it!” Too late. The door swung open. A hulking figure stood there…a Daytona Beach police officer. He had been in the vicinity and responded immediately.

Officers arrested the kidnappers the next day. They were teenagers, trying to impress a gang by stealing a sports car. “You have no idea how lucky you are,” one of the officers told me. “Carjackings that escalate into kidnappings rarely turn out well.”

I knew it wasn’t luck that had saved me. It was preparation, both of mind and of soul.

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