HOWARD — The small town of Howard has always been a quiet, safe community. Children ride their bikes on the sidewalks, families walk together in the evening and neighbors stand out in their yards and talk to each other about weather or their families and share flowers and vegetables from their gardens.
For one Howard resident, that sense of security was taken Saturday afternoon when a stranger yanked open her door as she was walking outside.
“I can’t remember what I was carrying, but I was walking backward through the door,” she said. “This man just grabbed the storm screen out of my hand and walked in the house and said ‘Where’s your kitchen? I need to see your kitchen.’”
He told her he was with a church group and they were going to replace the linoleum in her kitchen and help her pay her utilities.
“When I asked him who he was with, he didn’t say anything, he just kept on talking,” she said. “He started asking me how many rooms were in the house and how many children I had.”
It was at that point, the homeowner said, that she heard the storm door open and close. In that instant she felt her heart sink in her chest.
“When I heard that door close, I thought ‘Oh, no. Here’s another one and here I am’,” she said.
A second man entered her home carrying a roll of linoleum.
“They unrolled it and talked about replacing what I had and kept asking all kinds of questions,” she said. “They held that linoleum up all the time after they unrolled it.”
Never during the verbal exchange did the men raise their voices with her, nor did they call each other, or her, by name, she said.
“I was thinking of all the things [that could happen] ... and when you are a woman with two men there ... it was scary,” she said.
The men, described to be in their late 50s, through their positioning at the doorways, kept her trapped in her kitchen.
“I was just sitting there because I couldn’t go anywhere,” she said. “The whole thing was really strange. All the questions they asked and everytime I tried to find out who they were with, they just changed the subject. It was really scary.”
In the time they were in her home, the men did not touch or threaten her.
“But they were in my house,” she said. “I was trying to keep my wits about me so I could get them out of the house.”
After about 45 minutes of what felt like an interrogation about her family, their locations and their jobs, she said, the two men took the linoleum, got in their car and drove away.
“Finally they left. I didn’t think they were ever going to leave. There wasn’t any way I could get up and go outside because they were by each door,” she said.
“It’s not what you would normally picture,” she said. “They had to be in their late 50s at least. One was about 5 [feet] 4 [inches], the other was about 6 foot tall.”
She also said they were driving a large, older silver car with no front license plate.
She said she called the Knox County Sheriff’s Office as soon as she could and spoke with a dispatcher about the incident. She believed a deputy was coming down to take her statement, but no one appeared. She made a second call and left a voice-mail message for Knox County Sheriff David Barber. When speaking with the News Wednesday night, she said Barber had yet to return her phone call.
“I thought they would send a deputy but they never sent anybody, and he never called me back,” she said. “I just don’t understand it because there are a lot of elderly people, not just here, but in the county that would need to know there are people out there.”
After a few days to think about the incident, the woman said she still has no idea why she was targeted by the two men and what they really wanted.
“I don’t understand it at all. It just really upset me,” she said. “I didn’t realize how bad it affected me until I went to church on Sunday and I just started crying. I’m starting to calm down now. Everyone has been very supportive, but now I keep looking over my shoulder and making sure my doors are locked.”
Calls to Barber on Monday and Wednesday about the incident were unreturned at press time today.