Close encounter

Chico couple want to help intruder who terrified them

Randall Stone stands outside his house, showing where he chased an intruder and fired his gun.

Randall Stone stands outside his house, showing where he chased an intruder and fired his gun.

Photo By vic cantu

The two biggest fears imaginable for Chicoan Sharon Parsten are waking up to a stranger near her bed and not being able to scream for help. At 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 3, both of those fears came true.

Parsten (she asked that we not use her real name) was in bed with her husband, Randall Stone, a financial planner, real-estate developer and widely known political activist. The couple, married last September, were surprised by an intruder standing over Parsten who was stopped only when Stone pulled out his gun and threatened to shoot. Since then the couple have barely been able to sleep and are moving due to the trauma and fear of reprisals, compounded by having their home shown that night on two local TV newscasts. However, instead of creating animosity, the incident has become a driving inspiration for the couple to try to help the young would-be assailant.

That fateful morning, Parsten was recovering from surgery that removed the thyroid gland in her throat and severely weakened her vocal chords. When she opened her eyes at 5 a.m., she was terrified to see a young Hispanic man standing menacingly near her side of the bed. He was dressed in black, his face smeared with blood from some unknown incident, and had apparently entered their home through the doggie door.

“I tried to scream, but nothing came out,” Parsten said. In a raised voice, she demanded he get out. This alerted her husband, who had only recently started keeping his gun loaded and in his nightstand. A gun-control advocate, Stone normally kept the .38, a wedding present from his father-in-law, unloaded in a hard-to-reach place, separate from the ammunition. These last two weeks, however, Stone had kept it at his bedside after helping catch three muggers on his street and fearing retaliation.

Last week’s intruder, who was not one of the muggers, seemed to be in a drugged daze even after Stone yelled, “Get the fuck outta here!” and “Listen, I have a gun!” At first, he reacted only by continuing toward Parsten. Finally, Stone pulled his weapon out, pointed it, and screamed at the intruder to leave or be killed.

The man slowly turned and left the house, followed by Stone, who found him standing in the front yard, as if contemplating a return. Stone fired his gun twice into the ground, and the invader took off down a nearby creek, hopping neighbors’ fences before being caught by police. He is 17 years old, so his name was not released, but was well-known to police with a history of gang connections. He was taken to Butte County Juvenile Hall and charged with burglary and being under the influence of drugs.

The trauma of the incident has given the couple’s once happy home a feeling of fear. Additionally, the night of the invasion local TV Action News announced the street and block of their home and aired clear footage of it from five different angles on both KHSL Channel 12 and its sister station, KNVN Channel 24.

“What sealed the deal to move was when people we knew said they’d just seen our house on the news,” Parsten said.

TV stations don’t normally show crime victims’ houses, said Chico Police Sgt. Rob Merrifield. “I was surprised when I saw their home on TV. If it was me, I’d be concerned.”

Scott Howard, who became news director for both stations just two days before the crime, said his crews are sensitive to victim concerns and decide what to publicize on a case-by-case basis. If it had been a sexual assault they would not have shown the home. He said that in this case the victims were unreachable and not present when the news team arrived, so they chose to use the home as a graphic element.

The couple’s highest priorities now are healing and moving out of their home. They have already chosen a new house and plan to move there as soon as possible. Somewhat to their surprise, however, another priority has come out of this incident—a desire to help the young man who broke into their house.

Within three hours of the trauma an emotional transformation overcame Stone. His seething fury turned completely around to intense compassion for the invader. That morning at work he wore the same shirt he’d worn two months before when giving an inspirational leadership seminar to Bay Area high-school sophomores. Looking in the mirror and seeing the shirt brought back memories of helping youth the same age as the intruder, replacing his rage with a yearning to improve the young man’s life.

“Goddamn it, I’ve got to help this kid!” Stone said to himself. He quickly texted his wife about his desire to help the young man. As if on the same wavelength, she texted back her agreement.

Both realize that the criminal-justice system must take its course, but they will try to do whatever they can to improve the young man’s path. The couple are suffering psychologically, barely able to sleep, and both see the intruder whenever they close their eyes. They are receiving counseling but are determined to help the offender, even against their counselor’s advice.

“It breaks my heart for him and his family,” Parsten said. “It’s sad for everyone.”