A San Diego woman who attends Dartmouth College in New Hampshire is seeking permission to carry a concealed weapon on campus to protect herself against a man who’s been stalking her for four years.
Taylor Woolrich, 20, a junior at the Ivy League school, is pushing for legislation that would allow her to carry a concealed weapon after the college denied her request. Woolrich shared her story at the Students for Concealed Carry national conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in a video published on YouTube this week.
During her speech, Woolrich went into detail about the 67-year-old San Diego man, Richard Bennett, who’s stalked her since she was in high school and why she feels she needs to be armed for her own protection against him.
Woolrich said she lives each day in fear, wondering “what if?”
“What if today’s the day? What if today’s the day that he posts bail? What if today is the day that he realizes that I live in a gun-free zone?” Woolrich asked at the conference. “I go to sleep. I wake up. I walk out the door. I look on Facebook. I look in the rearview mirror. I can miss lecture. Everything that I do, I’m constantly wondering ‘What if?’ because I have no way to protect myself.”
According to Woolrich, Bennett began stalking her in late 2010 when she was 16 and worked at a coffee shop in San Diego’s East County.
Like all other customers, Woolrich served him coffee with a smile. Soon enough, she said he began coming into the coffee shop every single day, sometimes sitting there all day during her shift.
Woolrich said Bennett would allegedly follow her home and to work on the highway in the mornings. She was frightened, but didn’t think she had anything to worry about at first.
The situation came to a climax a few months later when, according to Woolrich, Bennett attempted to attack her high school boyfriend by throwing a hot cup of coffee in his face and telling him to stay away from her.
After that, Woolrich sought a restraining order against Bennett. The document was filed in August 2011 and was valid for three years – until this month.
Despite the restraining order, Woolrich said her stalker continued to contact her. He reached out to her on social media and when she went off to study at Dartmouth College, he managed to figure out where she lived.
Last summer, Woolrich said she came home to San Diego from college and by the next morning, Bennett was knocking on the front door of her parents’ home.
Her family called police and they arrested Bennett. Woolrich said that when officers searched his car, they discovered suspicious items such as maps of the area, duct tape, a rope tied into a slip noose and hunting knives.
Woolrich said police executed a search warrant at Bennett’s home and found her Dartmouth address, her parents’ address, information about her family and photos of Woolrich and her fiancé with his face scratched out.
With that, police filed a felony stalking charge against Bennett.
Woolrich filed another protective order against him on June 10, 2014, alleging that Bennett stalked her with a court order in effect between Aug. 1, 2011, and June 6, 2014. The document also charges Bennett with the unlawful possession of a firearm while under a restraining order.
Today, Bennett is being held on $300,000 bail at the George Bailey Detention Facility in San Diego. He’s charged with disobeying a court order and stalking, among other counts. Inmate records show he’s scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 12.
Woolrich fears Bennett will post bail or the charges will be dismissed, meaning he’d have access to her once again.
For this reason, Woolrich has asked Dartmouth to obtain a concealed weapons permit. She said she wants to be in control of her own safety given her situation.
The campus has denied her request and instead suggested she call for a campus security escort any time she feels unsafe. Woolrich said she’s called several times, but has allegedly been told not to call so much.
“My stalker doesn’t really care what time of day it is. He doesn’t care whether it’s light or dark or if I’m on the East Coast or the West Coast or in another country,” she said in the YouTube clip.
In a statement to “TODAY,” the university said:
"The safety and security of all Dartmouth students is a top priority. Any student who reports being stalked is provided with individualized attention and heightened protection. If there are improvements to our security services that we can make, we will. Like the vast number of colleges and universities across the country, Dartmouth has a policy that prohibits handguns on campus. As the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) has stated, 'Even with the best of intentions, armed students or employees could escalate an already explosive situation further, accidentally cause harm or use a gun in a situation that is not warranted.'"
"All Dartmouth students are part of a tight-knit community. We do everything we can to support and care for our students so that their time on campus is safe and productive."
“TODAY” reports that according to Dartmouth’s website, nearly all weapons are prohibited on campus, with an exception for “hunting rifles, knives, bows [and] archery supplies” that are registered and stored with the Department of Safety and Security.
Woolrich spoke to “TODAY” Thursday to elaborate on her case, noting that the university is taking steps to helping her feel safe on campus.
"My intention was not to join the political debate on gun control, but to speak out about my situation in hopes of bringing awareness to the distressing challenges faced by victims of stalking," she told “TODAY” in a statement.
"He is still awaiting trial... It’s a terrifying, emotional time for my family and me. I was concerned about not being able to protect myself once he is released from prison in the future. I think that my emotions on stage and my statements taken out of context online have led my message to be extremely misconstrued. At Dartmouth, we are a family. They are doing everything possible to ensure I’m safe and comfortable coming back to campus this fall."