Just after 3 AM, on February 6, 2007, United States Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman (right) rolled her luggage behind her as she walked in a light drizzle across the C section of the Blue Satellite parking area at Orlando International Airport. It was the last leg of her journey. All she wanted was to go home. As she reached row 33, the sense of relief she expected to feel at this point in her travels shattered when she realized that the strange woman from the shuttle was following her.
Colleen picked up her pace. The footsteps behind her slapped the wet pavement at an increased speed. She cut across to row 31, moving even faster toward her car. Now the sound of the pursuer's running footsteps echoed in her ears. Don't be paranoid, she thought as she tried to calm herself. The woman is probably just going to her own car and is in a hurry.
Despite the self-assurances, anxiety clutched Colleen's body in its tight grip. Relieved to reach her car, she jerked open the rear door and tossed her bag onto the back seat. She slammed it shut and opened the one in front. Sliding behind the steering wheel, Collen pulled the door shut and locked the doors in one swift move.
Two hands slapped on the window beside her. She flinched. Hearing a jerk on the door handle, she jabbed her key into the ignition.
--excerpt from Out There: The In-depth story of the astronaut love-triangle case that shocked America
When her pursuer (right) was arrested, Colleen's fear was justified. In addition to her disguise, the stalker carried pepper spray, a two-pound drilling hammer, a black buck knife, and several feet of rubber tubing. Initially, police charged her with attempted murder and abduction.
The woman who chased Colleen through the airport parking lot wasn't a crazed nobody but Lisa Nowak, an astronaut who'd flown on a mission into space and was obsessed with Colleen's boyfriend, astronaut Billy Oefelein.
Colleen Shipman suffered that night -- and continues to suffer -- from extreme trauma brought on by the attack. She pleaded to the judge: "Please don't be fooled. Lisa Nowak is a very good actress. She turned on her charm and spun a pitiful story. Almost three years later, I'm still reeling from her vicious attack. I know in my heart when Lisa Nowak attacked me, she was going to kill me. I believe I escaped a horrible death that night. The world as I knew it before Lisa Nowak attacked me is gone. I constantly look over my shoulder when I go outside so I can't be a victim to a surprise attack again."
She also told the judge that she suffers from migraines and high blood pressure and can no longer sleep without a light on. She's purchased a shotgun and obtained a concealed-weapons permit. "I have horrible anxiety --especially at night. I have terrifying nightmares of being cut into little pieces. I have barricaded my doors."
The judge seemed unmoved. Although he spoke harshly to Nowak -- "You are to stay totally away from her and have absolutely no contact of any sort. You brought this on yourself. I don't have any sympathy for you in that respect" -- he gave her a light sentence: one year probation, two days already served in jail, a mandated eight-hour anger management class, and fifty hours of community service.
On the other hand, did that light sentence devalue Colleen by minimizing the trauma she experienced? The woman who stole her peace of mind and sense of security is free to continue her life without any incarceration. Yes, Lisa Nowak had been an outstanding role model most of her life. She lost the career of her dreams. And she still faces possible military charges by the Navy, her home base since she entered the United States Naval Academy in July 1981.
But Nowak isn't haunted by the image of an attacker coming out of the night to end her life. She is not living in fear of a repeat performance.
What do you think?