Meredith Emerson is my hero. Even in death, she symbolizes the strength of victims caught in horrific circumstances who employ every means possible to fight back.
Emerson, as you may know, was brutally murdered by a piece of human scum named Gary Michael Hilton. There’s no doubt that she became a victim, as many do, simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case, Emerson’s and Hilton’s paths crossed while she was hiking with her dog in the north Georgia mountains on New Year’s Day. The reason he gave for choosing her as his next victim: “because she was a woman.”
(Makes you want to throw up, doesn’t it?)
At first, Hilton, 61, pretended to befriend Emerson, 24. They talked and walked together. He couldn't keep up, and she split off on her own. He waited in ambush, threatening her with a knife. The reason I’m so proud of Emerson, a graduate of the University of Georgia, is that she immediately fought back. Hilton told police that Emerson grabbed at his knife and baton. “She wouldn’t stop,” Hilton said. “She wouldn’t stop fighting and yelling at the same time. So I needed both to control her and silence her.”
How did he control her? He pummeled her with his fist so hard that he blackened both her eyes, broke her nose, and his hand. But Emerson still didn’t give up. For four days, he kept her captive, telling her he only wanted her money. She bought time by playing a cat and mouse game, continually giving him the wrong PIN number for her ATM card. “She was doing everything she could to stay alive, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan, has said. “It’s not something you can train for. Instinct kicks in… She nearly got the best of him.”
Hilton finally told her he would release her. Instead, he tied her to a tree, made himself some coffee, and then untied her and cracked her skull with a car jack handle. Afterward, he decapitated her corpse. But hey, Hilton insists he’s an old softie; he couldn’t bring himself to kill Emerson’s dog.
A true piece of human debris, Hilton has pled guilty to Emerson’s murder in return for a life sentence without the death penalty. Meanwhile he’s under suspicion in the deaths of a North Carolina couple and indicted in Florida for a similar murder, that of a woman named Cheryl Dunlap whose decapitated body was found in the woods last December. In that case, the death penalty is still on the table.
A decade ago Hilton helped produce and came up with the plot of a horror movie named “Deadly Run,” about a serial killer who hunts women in the woods. Emerson must have had her attacker sized up. From the moment he attacked, she undoubtedly understood that he would kill her, and she fought back with every ounce of strength and cunning she could muster. I remember back in the seventies, when I was coming of age, and women were advised not to fight an attacker/rapist, to ride out whatever happened in hopes that they’d stay alive. “Don’t risk angering him,” experts warned. Now we know most rapists are passive/aggressive and fantasize about control. When a woman fights, they usually flee.
Still, there are those, like Hilton, who don’t give up. How do we know what to do if we’re ever under attack? According to the statistics, we’re almost always better off fighting back and using whatever means we have not to be abducted. The majority of victims removed from the original site of the attack are found dead.
Although it could be argued that it would have been wiser to have a walking companion or pick a more heavily traveled route, once Hilton confronted her, Emerson did exactly the right thing. A man who fantasized about murdering women in the woods for more than a decade (evidence: the horror film) wasn't going to let her survive. She did all she could to stay alive, hoping someone would find her. Tragically, that didn't happen.
Monsters like Hilton will always be among us. But for today, right now, let’s all take a moment to applaud the incredible courage of Meredith Emerson.Tweet