Elizabeth Pittenger knew that if a mugger points a gun at you, you should give him whatever he wants. But when she came face-to-muzzle with a .38, adrenaline overwhelmed judgment. She fought back.
Fortunately for the 22-year-old college student, her junk-stuffed handbag got in the way of a bullet.
“Having a gun pointed right in my face was the scariest moment I’ve ever dealt with,” Pittenger told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Wednesday from Nashville, Tenn. “The only thing I could do was put up a struggle.”
'My ears were ringing’
Pittenger had just finished a personal finance test last Thursday evening at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and had gotten in her truck to drive home when she was accosted by a mugger with a gun. She was talking on her cell phone with her sister, and the man demanded the phone and her laptop.
He grabbed for her cell phone, and Pittenger got out of her truck and started struggling with her assailant as she yelled for help. On her shoulder was her oversized leather handbag stuffed with the necessities of life.
The mugger finally wrested the phone from Pittenger’s hand, took a couple of steps back and raised the gun. From a distance of only about 4 feet, he fired one shot.
“I remember hearing a shot and my ears were ringing,” Pittenger told Lauer. “I realized that was actually a bullet that was just fired from his gun. I kind of looked down to see if I’d been shot anywhere. My adrenaline was going so hard I probably wouldn’t have even felt it if I had been hit.”
The suspect, Orlando Edmiston, 20, was charged with attempted murder, attempted armed robbery and possession of a weapon on school property. He was being held on $32,500 bond and faced a preliminary hearing Wednesday.
Pittenger accompanied police to the station to give a statement. She also looked in her purse, and what she saw shocked her.
“The first thing I pulled out was actually a calculator that a friend had let me borrow,” she told Lauer. “It was completely destroyed from the bullet; also an umbrella and a sunglass case had taken the bullet as well. Fragments of the bullet were in the bottom of my purse.”
An inspection of the bag showed a hole in the end where the bullet entered it.
Lauer asked Pittenger, who works as a surrogate court clerk, if she had heard the advice about not putting up a fight when confronted by a lethal weapon.
She said she had, “but at the same time, I’ve been saying that you never know how you’re going to react when you’re faced with a situation like that.”
Pittenger had to get a new handbag, as the one she was carrying has been kept as evidence, along with the destroyed calculator, the umbrella with a shattered handle and the sunglasses case with a bullet impression in it.
The friend who loaned Pittenger the calculator said she need not buy a replacement.
Lauer asked the student if she has filled her new bag with even more stuff than the one that saved her life.
“I’ve kept about the same amount in there,” she said. She laughed when Lauer jokingly offered her a souvenir of her interview: a “Kevlar TODAY Show coffee mug to put in there.”
—Mike Celizic, with reporting by the Associated Press