It was a headline that could have been ripped right out of the movies.
But frighteningly enough, it was a real scenario being played out for a local minister and his family. As the LaGrange Daily News first reported July 18, the minister (whose name was not released by authorities) was being stalked by 51-year-old Jennifer Lyn Gray. According to Troup County Sheriff’s investigators, Gray actually followed the minister down to LaGrange, relocating, after seeing him at a faith based event in Chicago, Illinois.
Even more disturbing? Captain Mike Caldwell, chief investigator with the Troup County Sheriffs Office says Gray and the local minister have never actually met. But in harassing and delusional letters sent to him, Gray describes their supposed “upcoming wedding,” right down to the color of the bridesmaids dresses and what their invitations would look like. She even picked out a wedding cake topper.
“If you’re the victim, you’re in constant turmoil thinking ‘What’s this person going to do next?’” explained Caldwell. “It doesn’t pay to take it too lightly because you don’t know what will occur.”
Caldwell declined to comment if mental illness plays a role in this case.
He did say this is not Gray’s first brush with law enforcement. She was already on probation for an aggravated stalking charge a few years back.
“We talk to all parties involved, plus witnesses …. gather what evidence exists like social media and letters. From there, we compile a case to see if it reaches a criminal threshold. In this case, it did,” explained Caldwell.
While this case is unique and extreme for Troup County and LaGrange, stalking does happen. According to LaGrange Police Sgt. Marshall McCoy with the Criminal Investigations Section, the crime usually happens between married couples who are separated, or in some sort of relationship. The act also falls under the state of Georgia’s Family Violence Act.
McCoy said between January 2013 and now, the LaGrange Police Department has only had 29 cases of stalking. These are the ones that are actually reported.
Sadly, McCoy said by the time the complaints actually reach LPD, usually some type of violence has already occurred.
Like in the summer of 2011, in less than two months, two women were killed in separate attacks involving their estranged husbands. In May 2011, Shelley Renee Johnson was shot to death inside her Hogansville Road apartment. Her former husband, Jacob Johnson, of Dadeville, Alabama was charged with her death. In July, 37-year-old Tanya Bray was shot and killed by her estranged husband while sitting in her car on Ragland Street.
In both incidents, McCoy, Caldwell, and sheriff’s Sgt. Kelli Ellington, an investigator with the Special Victims Unit, all said they believe the women were stalked by their husbands, before tragically being gunned down.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in six women, or around 19.2 million, have experienced some form of stalking in their lifetime. That’s compared to one in 19 men, or 5.9 million, who also say they have been the victim of a stalker.
The CDC says stalking can take on a variety of forms:
* Unwanted phone calls, emails, text messages, any messages through social media
* Unwanted cards, presents, flowers
* Watching or following from a distance
* Tracking your travels through GPS, hidden cameras, or listening device
* Approaching or showing up unannounced at your home, school, or work place
* Leaving strange or potentially threatening objects
Some messages “are threatening or suggestive,” explained McCoy. “We can tell they’re [the harassers] trying to intimidate or place fear in their victim.”
“If someone contacts you, tell them one time you don’t want to talk to them,” he added. “But don’t talk to them again. Cut off all communication. Don’t respond to a text or pick up the phone even to cuss them out.”
If it continues, Ellington said there’s several things you can do including: calling the police, getting a temporary protective order, or filing for a restraining order. And always document everything that happens.
“A paper trail is so important,” said Ellington. “Especially if you have an incident over and over again … it builds the case up. Once you can make an arrest, it makes the case that much stronger.”
And sometimes, according to Caldwell and Ellington, getting law enforcement involved is the only way to keep your stalker away, like Jennifer Gray, who’s still locked up in the Troup County Jail. That’s where she’ll remain until another hearing in magistrate court. A brief reprieve for the minister and his family - in hopes this stay in jail will jolt her back to reality.