David Jennings slowly emerged from a deep sleep, sensing that someone was standing by his bed.
In the dark room, the blue glow of the television illuminated a man’s silhouette. The stranger was pointing a gun at Jennings’ head.
“Don’t move,” the stranger said.
Crime victims often have just moments to react, as they decide how best to keep alive and protect loved ones. With his three children sleeping down the hall and his wife lying next to him, Jennings had a second to decide.
Jennings would later say it was almost as if he weren’t directing his own actions.
Jennings, who was lying on his stomach, reached around behind his back with his left arm and grabbed the intruder’s hand that was holding the gun — the same gun Jennings kept by his bed for protection, a Bersa .380 semiautomatic.
Jennings used his free hand to push himself off his bed and swung his left leg off the edge. Turning toward the intruder, Jennings lunged. He slammed his shoulder into the man’s midsection, and with his arms wrapped around the stranger’s torso, lifted him off the ground to take him off balance. With the stranger digging his fingernails into Jennings’ back, the two crashed to the floor, about six feet from the foot of the bed.
Sitting on the stranger’s torso, Jennings wrapped his leg around him to constrict his breathing.
“I was smashing his head into the ground, trying to keep him disoriented,” Jennings said.
He shouted for his wife to call 911. Jennifer Jennings grabbed the phone and dialed but couldn’t remember her own address. She composed herself enough to spit the words out and then ran from the room, jumping over the two men who were blocking the door. She took the children downstairs to the family room.
The intruder stopped struggling when the two hit the ground.
That’s when he said something totally unexpected.
“He was just saying, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry,’ as he lay on his stomach,” Jennings said. “He wasn’t doing anything else. He was just laying there, his arms out to the side.”
The gun was a few feet away, dropped during the struggle.
Jennifer unlocked the front door for the police.
Upstairs, she told them.
As two Surprise police officers charged into the room, guns drawn, they grabbed the aggressor, the one who had a man pinned to the bedroom floor on his stomach.
Jennifer, just behind them, saw the mistake.
“Wait, that’s my husband.”
They handcuffed the intruder and took him away.
David Jennings’ hands shook for five hours.
David Jennings said he briefly studied mixed martial arts five years ago, training that kicked in when he came under threat that night in his room. Using his legs to constrict the intruder’s breathing, which is known as a body lock, is one of the moves he learned.
Surprise police arrested Ivan Sanchez, 18, who has a juvenile record for armed robbery and burglary.
Sanchez, accused of entering the Jennings house through an unlocked sliding-glass door, faces charges of aggravated assault and burglary.
Whether Jennings reacted to the situation appropriately depends on who’s doing the talking.
Surprise police Sgt. Bert Anzini praised Jennings for his quick action but stopped short of saying that everyone in that situation should react in the same way.
“It’s the person — the victim who’s in this situation — that has to make that choice of whether they’re going to submit to the demands of the criminal and hope that there’s no type of violence,” Anzini said.
Michael Foley, who teaches self-defense, said victims in a similar situation as Jennings should definitely take action. Foley said when someone breaks into an occupied home and has a gun, “they’re probably going to do something to you no matter if you comply or not.”
“Your best bet is to fight with everything you’ve got,” he said.
James Gierke, director of victims services for the National Organization for Victim Assistance, said taking on a criminal suspect is not always the right thing to do.
“I think (that’s) way too black and white,” he said. “There’s a huge potential for you to escalate a situation. Sometimes compliance is the best approach.
“I cannot and I would not absolutely recommend that in every single situation the appropriate response is to fight. I think in certain situations compliance makes sense.”