Overcoming adversity in Oak Park

Tanya Moyer had problems even before someone shoved a gun in her face

Tanya Moyer, at home by her open front door.

Tanya Moyer, at home by her open front door.

Photo by Larry Dalton

In a poor neighborhood, keeping the front door open and inviting just about anyone in would seem to be taking a big risk. Regardless, Tanya Moyer has done just that in her Oak Park home.

She terms herself the “neighborhood social worker,” and she leaves her door open so anyone can pop in to say hello and talk or get things off their chest. If she does not want to be bothered, she simply places a “privacy, please” door hanger on the outside doorknob and seeks peace inside.

But that openness and trust has proven problematic for Moyer, a graduate student and filmmaker, adding one more complication and obstacle to success for a woman who was already struggling to make it in one of Sacramento’s poorest neighborhoods.

It was around 10 p.m. on August 23, Moyer said, when she and her 10-year-old autistic son, Alek, were debating going outside to throw Pop Snaps on the sidewalk. Moyer had rebuffed the idea, and her son had gone to bed disappointed. He also had left the front door open.

A short time later, after her son had fallen asleep, the 34-year-old, short, spunky woman who describes herself as a hippie stood in her dining room talking to her boyfriend on the phone, not far from her door. She saw a man approach, come inside and raise a gun. He came across the floor, held the gun to her head and began to demand money and jewelry, tightly grabbing hold of her upper arm with force that caused a bruise.

“I kept thinking, ‘I can’t die and leave my son,’” she said. “I kept seeing my son using his book of icons as I [lay] dead on the floor, not knowing what’s going on.”

(Her son can’t speak because of the autism, so he uses a book full of one-inch squares with icons representing his different wants and needs.)

Moyer does not own valuable jewelry and only had $40 in her see-through plastic purse. She gave it all to the robber, and then he demanded the keys to her car parked outside. Holding the gun to her head, he marched her around the house as she struggled to remember where she had left the keys.

Then, the man dragged her outside and attempted to force her into her car, and the idea of her son being left alone caused her to resist. She grabbed the gun, and, while the assailant still held it, she pointed the barrel at his crotch.

“That’s the only place I could think to point it,” she said.

Eventually, the man let go when Moyer started screaming, and she ran across the street to her neighbor’s house. Her neighbor called the police. Alek never woke up, still asleep inside his bedroom. The man did not take Moyer’s car.

At the time of the robbery, Moyer was set to begin her second year at California State University at Sacramento, where she was working on a master’s degree in social work. Classes began and went on for nearly two weeks, but Moyer, an A student, did not attend. When she finally went to her “clinical intervention and sexual abuse” class two weeks later, a video shown in class gave her flashbacks and she left the class early.

“I’m a fucking wreck,” she said. “I’m trying to go back to school … and couldn’t even sit through one class. And if I don’t go back to school, I have student loans to pay off, and I’ll have to sell my house. And if I do go back, I would be a mental nightmare.”

Her frustrations mounted when she found she couldn’t place her son in temporary respite care, help for which she was hoping after the robbery. Social workers, she said, blamed the service lapse on the now-resolved budget impasse and the lack of homes in which to place special-needs children like Alek. Even once the budget was signed, expenditure cuts meant more reductions in social services Moyer says she needs to help her while she finishes her degree.

“Oh, the professors know my situation,” she said, with a determined look in her eye. “I’m going back.”

She has lived in her home on 11th Avenue for three years, after moving here from Salt Lake City so her husband could attend the University of California at Davis and study enology. On her first day in graduate school, the two split up.

In a neighborhood often riddled with crime, Moyer is not alone in her experience. Just about 30 minutes before the robbery at her home, a woman at a home only two blocks away, on 10th Avenue near 35th Street, was robbed by a man with a similar description to that of the man who robbed Moyer. When the woman’s pit bull growled at the man, he shot the dog in the face, according to Detective Will Tell of the Sacramento Police Department. He said he believes that robber was the same man who robbed Moyer.

“I have a lead, but I can’t say any more about that right now,” Tell said. “I’ve turned the lead over to the patrol guys.” Tell is working on a number of cases right now, he said, including six home-invasion robberies.

According to the Sacramento Police Department’s online records, at least nine home burglaries and one homicide occurred in Moyer’s neighborhood between June 1 and August 30, 2002. Moyer said she knows two people were murdered on 43rd Street just a few days after her ordeal. She’s puzzled that media sources did not report the double home invasions. If citizens knew more about these crimes, she speculated, maybe more would be done to stop them.

Moyer no longer feels safe in her house, but she said she doesn’t want to leave. She has gone to great lengths to make her house her home. She has remodeled the bathroom, fixed hardwood floors and finger-painted the walls.

“I’ve put so much work into my house,” she said. “I don’t want to toot my own horn, but it’s very artistically done.”

And now, the white woman said she harbors fears she does not like to see in herself. Moyer’s neighborhood is predominantly black, and the man who robbed her also was black.

“Now I’m terrified when a black man walks by my house,” she said. “I don’t have racial boundaries, and that’s my attitude, but it sucks now.”

Two weeks ago, her life looked bleak, but it brightened just a bit last week when social workers finally approved temporary respite care for her son, on weekends, until Moyer can get her life in order.

“Before the robbery, it was the place I came to find peace. Now, it’s been violated,” she said. “I’m terrified when someone knocks on the door.”