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'I just shot him to stop him, not to kill'

Homewood woman's always armed on her morning walks

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

By Lori Shontz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If it were possible, Charmaine Dunbar said, she would protect herself with her fists. She would fight. But she sometimes hears gunshots as she relaxes in her Homewood home, and she knows that her fists can't stop a bullet.

Charmaine Dunbar, who did not want her face shown, is interviewed yesterday -- "This'll be my protection if something happens. A bullet will stop anything." (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

That's why she is licensed to carry a gun.

"Why should I get hurt if I've got something on the side of me?" Dunbar asked yesterday afternoon, five days after she shot a man after he threatened her with a rifle. The man turned out to be Charles Wesley, who police say is responsible for a recent string of sexual assaults in the East End.

She bought a .38-caliber handgun and took a certification class five years ago because she needed it for a job. Now a security guard at the University of Pittsburgh, she no longer carries a gun at work. But she was recertified five weeks ago in part because she believed that the gun could prove valuable.

Police say Wesley may have intended for Dunbar, 42, to be his seventh victim. The six women he's charged with assaulting tried everything to keep their attacker at bay. One told him she had recently given birth and had stitches. Another pretended to pass out. When that didn't work, she told him she was menstruating. Another screamed, a fourth struggled.

At 3:45 a.m. Thursday, as she went for her daily early morning walk through Homewood, Dunbar encountered a man who pointed a .22-caliber rifle at her, but never fired. She reported the incident to the police and then decided to go back out and finish her walk.

"I just figured, 'Why not start out again?' " Dunbar said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would see that man again."

Incredibly enough, she did. This time when he pointed the rifle at her, from maybe 20 feet away at about 5:35 a.m., Dunbar pulled out her gun and shot Wesley twice in the abdomen.

"I just shot him to stop him," she said, "not to kill."

Daniel Wesley

Dunbar never considered that the man could be the rapist for whom police were searching.

Police affidavits lay out in graphic detail each of the half-dozen assaults.

The attacker didn't merely sneak up on women and teen-age girls and grab them around the neck before sexually assaulting them. He choked one into unconsciousness, hit another with his hands, and threatened to hunt down and kill several if they breathed a word to police.

According to a police affidavit, he told one victim, "I'll chase you down and put 17 in your head," referring to a full clip of a semiautomatic handgun.

The documents say Wesley, 25, raped a 14-year-old girl and then stole $2 from her back pocket before sending her on her way to school.

He told her if she called police, he would "go on the run, find her and then kill her by shooting her," the affidavit said.

The woman who stopped him had lived an unassuming life.

She spent three years on active duty in the Army starting in 1980, and learned to fire an M-16. She didn't get a permit to carry her own gun, however, until 1997, when she took a job with Allied Security. Through that agency, she worked on a government job where she was required to provide her own gun.

Dunbar, who is married, the mother of three and the grandmother of one, said she rarely practices shooting. In the past year, she said, she had fired the gun probably twice, once when visiting relatives in Alabama, a second time on Sept. 14 when she took a recertification course, as required by law.

Ever since she has owned the handgun, she has kept it in her bedroom while she sleeps in case someone breaks in. She also carries it in her car when she goes out at night and in a holster on her right hip -- and under her baggy clothes -- when she exercises.

She is determined and disciplined, however, as evidenced by her exercise routine. Since January, she has walked for two hours every day. (And has lost 45 pounds in the process.) Because she finds it difficult to make herself exercise after returning from work, she decided to get her walk out of the way first thing every morning before she starts work at 7 a.m.

She sets out her clothes before going to sleep, wakes up at 3:15 a.m. and is out the door with her dog, a Jack Russell terrier, beagle mix named Jagger, precisely at 3:30.

"I see all kinds of stuff when I'm out that early in the morning," she said. "You'd be surprised. But as long as they don't bother me, I won't bother them."

Dunbar had never even reached for her gun until six days ago.

"He looked like a monster," she said of the man who leveled off a rifle and aimed right at her. "He didn't seem human."

Dunbar scooped up her dog with one hand and held her other hand up in warning; she did not reach for her gun. The man said, "Stand there while I shoot you." She tried to reason with him, backed up, and when she felt far enough away started running.

She yelled out for help and someone called the police. An officer took her home and took a report. Then she went back out for her daily walk.

The second time she saw the man, she was walking up Brushton Avenue around 5:35 a.m. She recognized his clothing. "Oh my God," she thought, "It's him."

She walked faster, unobtrusively getting her gun ready, but kept it under her sleeve. When they reached the top of steep Brushton Avenue, he was out of breath and stopped; she continued. She looked behind her once, and she saw him leaning over, pulling his rifle out from his pants.

Knowing she needed to fire before he was able to take aim, she steadied her gun and fired twice at his abdomen. He continued to lean over, apparently unaffected, and Dunbar thought, "Oh my God, my bullets didn't work."

Then he stood up, yelled, and fell over. Dunbar ran to her parents' house and returned to the scene with her father. They waited until the police came because she didn't want him to get away.

Wesley has a criminal record in Allegheny County, but nothing to suggest he would evolve into a rapist and stalker, as police have charged.

In the most recent of the four cases on file, Wesley pleaded guilty to theft, receiving stolen property, possession of instruments of a crime, fleeing, reckless driving and numerous vehicle code infractions.

He was sentenced in Oct. 2001 to five months in the Allegheny County Jail and 18 months of probation.

Dunbar said that she doesn't believe Wesley recognized her during their second encounter.

"I was just a woman," she said. "That's what he was after, a woman."

Lori Shontz can be reached at lshontz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1722.

Staff writer Jonathan Silver contributed to this report.

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