Published January 22, 2004, in The Chicago Sun-Times

Gun owner: I, not cops, got bad guy

Three days after Christmas, someone broke into the DeMar family home in Wilmette through a dog door, stealing a television, an SUV and the keys to the home.

The next night, Hale DeMar was prepared for a return visit. With his children upstairs, DeMar, 54, shot burglar Morio Billings, 31, in the shoulder and calf, police said.

Billings was caught at a nearby hospital and charged with felony residential burglary and possession of a stolen car, authorities said.

And, in a move that has drawn criticism, DeMar was cited with breaking Wilmette's ban on handguns and with failing to update his firearm owner's identification card.

The misdemeanors are unlikely to bring jail time. Wilmette Police Chief George Carpenter did not criticize DeMar for protecting his family but said homes are safer without handguns.

DeMar, in a letter sent to the Chicago Sun-Times, is now speaking out:

Village Trustees ... Stick to Parade Schedules & Planting our Parks

Many of us have experienced a sense of violation upon returning to our homes, only to find that someone else has been there. Someone else has trespassed in our bedrooms, looting and stealing that which is readily replaced. Many of us, still haunted by that violation, will never again have a sense of security in our own homes. Few, however, have awakened to realize that they had been violated as they slept in their beds, doors locked, as family dogs patrolled their homes. For me, the seconds until I found my children still safely tucked in their beds were horrifying. The thought that a young child may have been hurt or abducted was incomprehensible.

The police were called and in routine fashion they came, took the report and with little concern left, promising to increase surveillance. Little comfort, since the invader now had keys to our home and our automobiles. The police informed me that this was not an uncommon event in east Wilmette and offered their condolences.

What is one to do when a criminal proceeds, undeterred by a 90-pound German shepherd, an alarm system and a property ... lit up like an outdoor stadium? And now, he had my house keys and an inventory of things he'd like to call his own. Would the police patrol my dead-end street as effectively the second time as they had the first? Would my small children be unharmed the next time? Would the career criminal be satisfied with another automobile, another television or would he feel the need, once again, to climb the staircase up to the bedrooms, perhaps for a watch or a ring or a wallet, again risking little?

Would my children wake to find a masked figure, clad in black, in their bedroom doorway, a vision that might haunt them for years? Would the police come again and fill out yet another report, and at what point should I feel comfortable that the 'bad guy' got everything he wanted and wouldn't return again, a third time?

I went to the safe where my licensed and registered gun was kept, loaded it for the very first time and tucked it under the mattress of my bed. I assured my frightened children ''that daddy would deal with the bad guy ... if he ever returned.'' Little did I imagine that this brazen animal was waiting in the backyard bushes as I tucked my children into bed.

Fifteen minutes after bedtime, the alarm went off. Three minutes after the alarm was triggered, the alarm company alerted the police to the situation and 10 minutes later the first police car pulled up to my home, but only after another call was made to 911, by a trembling, half-naked father. I suppose some would have grabbed their children and cowered in their bedroom for 13 minutes, praying that the police would get there in time to stop the criminal from climbing the stairs and confronting the family in their bedroom, dreading the sound of a bedroom door being kicked in. That's not the fear I wanted my children to experience, nor is it the cowardly act that I want my children to remember me by.

Until you are shocked by a piercing alarm in the middle of the night and met in your kitchen by a masked invader as your children shudder in their beds, until you confront that very real nightmare, please don't suggest that some village trustee knows better and he/she can effectively task the police to protect your family from the miscreants that this society has produced.

This career criminal had been arrested thirty times. He was wanted in Georgia and for parole violations in Minnesota. How many family homes had he violated, how many innocent lives were affected, how many police reports went into some back office file cabinet, only to become some abstract statistic? How is it that rabid animals like this are free to roam the streets, violating our homes and threatening the safety of our children?

If my actions have spared only one family from the distress and trauma that this habitual criminal has caused hundreds of others, then I have served my civic duty and taken one evil creature off of our streets, something that our impotent criminal justice system had failed to do, despite some thirty odd arrests, plea bargains and suspended sentences.

Hale DeMar, Wilmette

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