When Neighbors Help Neighbors Fight Crime

07/11/2010 11:34 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Diane Dimond Television journalist, author, syndicated columnist

This is the America I told my daughter we lived in when she was growing up.

"If you're ever in trouble, honey, just ask your neighbor for help. Find a policeman if you can."

On a bright sun-shiny day in Chapel Hill, North Carolina a few weeks ago there was no time for a girl we'll call Sally to ask for help. As this 18 year old daughter jogged along the streets of her university town she was suddenly set upon by a fiend. A car rolled up, a would-be kidnapper jumped out and hit Sally in the face with a blast of pepper spray.

She didn't have time to ask for help but Sally's neighbors stepped up anyway. Two brothers, Joey and Freddie Shelton ran to her aid. They are American heroes in my book.

The Sheltons had never met the young woman but as Joey said, "Just the sight of a man treating a woman like that in broad daylight was wrong." The brothers didn't stop to think as they saw the terrified young woman and a man trying to haul her into his car.

They quickly pulled their vehicle to a spot to try to block in the attacker's car. With rescue imminent the perp dropped the struggling Sally and jumped into his car to speed away. In the process he hit Joey, not once but twice, sending him spinning like a top and up into the windshield with such force that Joey's upper body cracked the glass. Joey was tossed into the street and left with an injured shoulder and a badly fractured back.

But Sally was alive, safe and able to celebrate her 19th birthday the next day.

Another neighbor driving by, Melissa Williams, didn't understand exactly what was happening when she saw Joey lying in the street but she was sharp enough to follow the attacker and jot down the license plate number. 26 year old Theodore Walker was arrested a short time later and in his car, police say, they found a loaded shotgun, a baseball bat and he carried a pocketful of condoms. During a court hearing it was mentioned that Walker may suffer from a mental illness.

Since Walker's mug shot hit the news four other young women have come forward to say he tried to abduct them too. One of the women was hospitalized in critical condition.

The town of Chapel Hill has embraced their heroes realizing it could have been any one of their daughters or sisters or nieces or cousins who needed help that day. Such selflessness needs to be honored.

The Mayor held a ceremony for the Good Samaritan brothers, along with Williams. They were all given special certificates and symbolic keys to the town. Mike Miles, a local businessman whose office window overlooks the scene where the attempted kidnapping played out, was so moved he started a fund at the local RBC bank with a thousand dollars out of his own pocket. Since then, the bank reports they've gotten donations from all over North Carolina as well as from other locations where the story has spread.

UNC Health Care has announced it will absorb the cost of Joey's hospital treatments so the fund can go for his home care, medical supplies and missed work. The 51 year old Joey is a part time barber and chauffeur, his 50 year old brother, Freddie, recently returned to the state after having been laid off by Boeing in Seattle. The money, at this time in their lives, is a God-send.

When I spoke to Joey Shelton he came across as a humble man who couldn't believe all the celebrity-like attention he's been getting. "It's just mind blowing," he said. "The love and support and appreciation! It's wild - after turning 50 you think it's gonna all be downhill."

Some people might not even have notice Sally's plight or deliberately turned away from helping, not wanting to get involved. I had to ask: Why did Joey and Freddie jump right in?

"Looking at her face, how terrified she was. She needed help," he told me. "I find it hard to believe that anyone who saw what we saw wouldn't have stopped to help." Since the incident they've all gotten to know each other better, they've had meals and long conversations about the future.

By the way, the Sheltons are black, Sally is white and that fact somehow gives me even more hope that the America I taught my daughter to believe in really does exist. Neighbors helping neighbors stay safe with no regard to skin color.

The brothers could have turned a blind when they spotted the attack at the side of the road. "Instinct just kicked in," Joey told me. "Doing the right thing comes from what you are taught. I was taught right." Joey says he and Freddie were simply raised to help others in need.

Let's all be sure to raise our kids like that.

<em>Diane can be reached through her web site at: