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Dartmouth student lobbies to carry gun after encounters with alleged stalker

Aug. 7, 2014 at 7:54 AM ET

Fearing a man who she says has stalked her for four years, a Dartmouth College student is pushing for legislation that would allow her to carry a concealed weapon.

San Diego native Taylor Woolrich shared her story at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., for the Students for Concealed Carry’s national conference.

“What if today’s the day?” she said during her 9-minute speech at the conference. “What if today is the day that he posts bail? What if today is the day that he finds out my parents’ new address? What if today is the day he finds out I live in a gun-free zone? … I’m constantly wondering, ‘What if?’ because I have no way to protect myself.”

Woolrich told convention attendees she does not own a gun. “Do I need one to protect myself from him? Potentially,” she added. “Do I want to take that risk [of not getting a gun]? Absolutely not. I do intend on getting one as soon as possible. I deserve the right, and that option. I deserve to feel safe, and know that, if something did happen, I have the ability to protect myself and those around me.”

Coming “from a family of law enforcement,” Woolrich said the conference marked the “first time” she discussed her encounters with the man, Richard Bennett, whom she said she met while she was working at a San Diego coffee shop in late 2010. She claimed Bennett, 67, has stalked her ever since.

“He attacked – well, attempted to attack – my then-boyfriend in high school when I was 17 years old, and [I] told him he should never speak to me again, and threw hot coffee in his face,” she said. She added that an emergency restraining order filed in August 2011 didn't stop him from showing up at her workplace the next morning, when he “chased me back to my car.”

Woolrich said that restraining order lasts three years, meaning it expires this month, and claimed it didn't stop him from harassing her at Dartmouth, at her family’s new home and online.

“After 18 months of not seeing this man, I got back to my parents' house at 1:30 a.m., flying in from Dartmouth, and at 8:30 a.m., the next morning, he was knocking on my front door,” she said. “When he was arrested by the police, they found what they like to call a rape kit in the back of his car. It consisted of a sweatshirt, firewood, maps of the area, duct tape, a rope tied into a slip noose, hunting knives and various other items.”

A reporter for San Diego's KGTV asked Bennett about the charges.

"I am innocent as the day is long," he said, ending the interview when pressed for more. Bennett's next court appearance is on August 12.

In the meantime, Woolrich intends to return to Dartmouth this fall, and is challenging the school’s gun policy.

“Whenever I asked them to obtain authorization on campus to carry a concealed weapon, they told me ‘No way,’” she said. “No appeals process.”

She said a Dartmouth security representative told her she could call for a security escort if she felt unsafe. “I’ve done this, and I’ve gotten responses such as, ‘You can’t keep calling us all the time,’ or ‘You can only call after 9 p.m.’ I’d like to say that my stalker doesn't really care what time it is.”

"The safety and security of all Dartmouth students is a top priority," the university told TODAY in a statement, noting that it could not speak to Woolrich's case specifically, due to privacy issues. "Any student who reports being stalked is provided with individualized attention and heightened protection. If there are improvements to our security services that we can make, we will. 

"Like the vast number of colleges and universities across the country, Dartmouth has a policy that prohibits handguns on campus. As the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) has stated, 'Even with the best of intentions, armed students or employees could escalate an already explosive situation further, accidentally cause harm or use a gun in a situation that is not warranted.'

"All Dartmouth students are part of a tight-knit community. We do everything we can to support and care for our students so that their time on campus is safe and productive."

According to Dartmouth’s website, nearly all weapons are prohibited on campus, with an exception for “hunting rifles, knives, bows [and] archery supplies” that are registered and stored with the Department of Safety and Security.

Woolrich weighed in on Thursday to clarify her comments, and noted that the university is taking steps to help her feel secure on campus.

"My intention was not to join the political debate on gun control, but to speak out about my situation in hopes of bringing awareness to the distressing challenges faced by victims of stalking," she told TODAY in a statement.

"He is still awaiting trial... It’s a terrifying, emotional time for my family and me. I was concerned about not being able to protect myself once he is released from prison in the future. I think that my emotions on stage and my statements taken out of context online have led my message to be extremely misconstrued. At Dartmouth, we are a family. They are doing everything possible to ensure I’m safe and comfortable coming back to campus this fall."

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