BARBERTON: Sherri Bevan Walsh was a 25-year-old assistant prosecutor on her way to work when a man with a knife opened the driver’s side door of her car and grabbed her by the throat near her Highland Square home.
Lessons from a college self-defense class she practiced on her friends literally kicked in when the man dubbed the “daylight rapist,” Gordon Ellis McRoy, 43, chose Bevan Walsh to be his 11th of 13 victims.
“He said, ‘Shut up or I’ll kill you’ ” Bevan Walsh, Summit County prosecutor, told participants Friday during a senior self-defense course that she and Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry conducted at the Barberton Active Adult Center.
Bevan Walsh, who was able to fight McRoy off in the February 1986 attack, said the experience has been the driving force in her effort to teach women, their daughters and seniors how to defend themselves against criminals who prey on those they believe are weak.
The 240-pound McRoy “had his hands around my throat when I snapped my arms up and broke his hold,” she said.
When she swiveled in her seat and began pummeling his chest with her high heels, he gave up and fled.
McRoy was eventually caught with the help of her description and pleaded guilty to 31 charges stemming from attacks on women ages 14 to 25 over a six-month span, four of whom he raped. McRoy died the day before he was scheduled to be sentenced when he hanged himself in the Summit County Jail.
The daylight attack on Bevan Walsh contradicts the idea that criminals only attack under cover of darkness.
“Just as many crimes are committed during daylight hours as at night,” Bevan Walsh advised the crowd of about 60 men and women who attended the session.
She and Barry used prosecuting attorneys and magistrates as human guinea pigs to demonstrate techniques to help the seniors avoid becoming victims.
“Gentlemen, as you watch this, it is probably going to make the hair stand up on the back of your necks,” Barry remarked before he demonstrated a technique called the “groin slap and grab” on Summit County Magistrate Jon Oldham who quickly covered himself with his hands.
As many as 5,000 Summit County residents have participated in the classes over the past 10 years, Bevan Walsh said.
“She really cares about seniors and it’s about time,” said Mary Steiner, a Barberton resident. “She looks out for us older people.”
John Albright of Barberton was able to evade some of Bevan Walsh’s moves as she tried to break his hold on her wrists.
“That man in the purple shirt is really strong. I had to resort to the groin kick,” she teased as she pointed Albright out to the seniors.
While the classes are generally offered for seniors and women, a popular seminar is geared for mothers and daughters with an emphasis on teaching high school girls.
“That’s about the time they are dating and going to college. Girls of that age are maybe getting themselves into these types of situations,” she said.
The next self-defense class scheduled is geared for women and will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. April 2 at the Summit County Jobs Center, Room 119b, 1040 E. Tallmadge Ave., Akron. The class is free and registration is not required.
For more information, call the prosecutor’s office at 330-643-2796.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.