Security cameras catch Utah woman’s ‘terrifying’ experience of being followed on her run
Nov 28, 2023, 4:42 PM | Updated: Nov 29, 2023, 10:34 am
ST. GEORGE — A St. George woman is sharing her “terrifying” experience after she was followed by an unknown car while on a morning run. After several minutes, she sought refuge at a stranger’s home.
Moments of the encounter were captured by several video cameras in the neighborhood. She hopes that others will learn from her scary encounter and make a plan for their safety when out running or on their own in a vulnerable situation.
Shanna Birchett is an avid runner and mother of six. She ran competitively growing up but said she just didn’t feel right about running in college.
“So I ended up serving a church mission for 18 months and then I came home, married my husband, and we just had a bunch of babies,” Birchett said. “I have six kids, eight and under. So it’s crazy.”
Some people may recognize Birchett from her Instagram page, @motherhood_running, where she has documented her journey of training and getting back into running after a hiatus.
“I actually started my page last year. I was just out of the running scene for like 11 years pretty much having babies back to back,” Birchett said. “Right now, I’m training for my first marathon with and it’s been really fun. But yeah, with this incident, it’s been a little bit of a hiccup.”
On November 3, Birchett got up extra early to do her long run: 5 a.m. With six kids with their own busy schedules and her husband heading out of town, Birchett had to bump her long run to Friday morning instead of Saturday.
“I just stuck in my neighborhood because my husband had to leave right after me,” she said. “I always carry a pepper spray and a rape alarm. I did not carry my rape alarm this time which I’m really sad because I do it like religiously…but that day I didn’t.”
Birchett planned a two-and-a-half-hour run, doing loops around her neighborhood.
“It’s actually crazy that this incident happened because it is a pretty active neighborhood,” she said. “It’s very tight-knit, people are really invested in each other. There’s a ton of runners and walkers and people walking dogs. I know when people go to work, I know when bus stops come, I see kids walking to the bus stop, like it’s pretty active for such an early morning.”
Birchett got about two hours into her run without any issues. At approximately 7 a.m. something unusual happened.
“And this is where I see the car coming down,” Birchett said.
Birchett approached a T in the road where a car was coming down the other street. The car pulled out onto the same road where she was running and just sat there in the middle of the road.
“Initially I didn’t think anything of it,” Birchett said. “I was not in panic mode, I didn’t feel alert, nothing…and so I just keep running, but I’m aware. I’m watching them.”
Birchett said when she was 18, she and her sister were followed on a run and it took her many years to run alone again.
“I was coming down this road and then the car was a white four-door sedan. It had dents, I want to say, on both sides,” she said.
The car continued down the same street Birchett was running and began to make a turn at the corner, the same direction Birchett usually runs on her normal route.
“The car was going like they knew my route. They knew I was going to turn up that way. They must have been watching me and I didn’t catch on or whatever. But the fact that they were already turning before I even got to that corner made me realize like this car had been watching me either in the past or on this run,” Birchett said.
Birchett decided to slow down.
“I’m like what are they doing because they’re going super slow in the middle of the road trying to figure out what I’m doing. And so I stopped there at the corner instead of turning. They stop at the corner and I’m looking at them. I’m like directly looking at the driver,” Birchett said. “The driver has super tinted windows. I can’t even see a silhouette, can’t see how many people are in their car. I have no idea what’s going on.”
The driver not only had dark tinted windows, but had turned their headlights on dim. Birchett noticed the license plate was not a Utah plate – but all white, likely a California license plate.
“So when I got to the corner, I decided I’m not going to turn left. I’m just gonna go straight and maybe mix up a different loop, because I have no idea what this car is doing,” Birchett said. “And I’m still not quite freaking out at this point. I’m just kind of more alert.”
Birchett went straight – a different direction than the car was headed.
“The car then pulls back and straightens up to go straight with me. And that’s where it hit me. I was like, ‘this car is not looking for an address. They’re not dropping a kid off at a bus stop because there’s a bus stop right there. They’re not going to work’,” Birchett said. “I’m pretty positive that was not a Utah license plate. Like all of these things start going through my head and this is happening pretty quick.”
She said the moments passed slowly but in reality, the whole encounter was only five to six minutes. However, for Birchett who runs typically at just over a six-minute-mile pace, each minute marks a long distance.
Birchett backed up and stopped at the corner.
“Then this car starts slowly trailing with me and I look over at them and I have my phone in my hand so I kind of put up my phone like this to show them that I had a phone,” Birchett said.
While pausing, a feeling came over her.
“Then something in me was just like you need to run like I can’t even explain the feeling, other than — it sounds crazy — but like a voice in my head that was like ‘run. Now’,” Birchett said.
That’s when Birchett began to sprint, and at that point, she was caught on security cameras of homes she was passing.
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“I start sprinting and then you can see the car behind me and just like slowly trailing behind me and they’re just watching me the whole time,”Birchett said.
Birchett got some distance and thought she would just head home as fast as she could since she was only half a mile away.
“All of a sudden I had this thought like do not do that….they’re in a car, they can outdrive you, if they want to go faster they can. They’ll know where you live, they’ll know what street you’re on,” Birchett said. “So I just had this thought to turn around and knock on the first door I came to and that’s the second clip.”
A second home security camera clip shows Birchett slowing her jog to walk up to a door, seeking sanctuary at a stranger’s home. The car follows her and stops just short of the home.
“I was internally freaking out like this car just passed me down the hill,” Birchett said. “They parked down the hill. They’re just sitting there, they’re watching to see what I’m doing.”
She hoped that maybe if she acted calmly the car following her would believe this was her house. She thought maybe the door would be open and she could go in and then explain to the homeowner her situation.
“I also noticed that this house had a big light that goes over the doorway, so it’s super lit. And then they had a doorbell camera and cameras on the exterior of the house. My initial thought was like, ‘If I ring the doorbell a billion times I’ll be recorded the whole time. They’ll know where I’m at. They’ll know my, at least my date of time’,” Birchett said. “And then if he ever tries to approach me up here, at least I have that too.”
She began to ring the doorbell frantically.
“I’m watching the guy that’s sitting in the car. He then turns around on the downhill and comes back up the hill,” Birchett said. “He then parked like 20 feet above me on the hill.” This is shown in the third clip.
At approximately 7 a.m. it was still early and no one was coming to answer the door.
“I could feel it when I was sitting there like they’re just watching to see if I get in this house. They’re curious of if I’m gonna get in there,” Birchett said. “They’re understanding now that I don’t live here. Nobody’s going to answer the door. Nobody’s going to see me. I’m just like, ‘I’m just screwed.’ I was so scared in that moment.”
Birchett called her husband, knowing he was awake and nearby.
“I was in panic. I was like I had to think of a Plan B right now and meanwhile, I’m calling my husband —and the reason I call my husband over the police— is because the closest police place is like 10 to 15 minutes away,” Birchett said. “I was just like panicking trying to tell him like ‘hey, I’m trying to figure out how to tell you where I’m at, somebody’s following me I need your help.’ And he’s freaking out, hopping in the car and trying to figure out what’s going on. I’m just standing there and then eventually the homeowner of the house comes out.”
The homeowner, a man in his 60s, opened the door to Birchett who tried to quickly explain what was happening.
“We talked for a few minutes and when I point up at the car, he looks at the car and then the car just like eventually, like about 30 seconds later just start to slowly trail off,” Birchett said. “[The homeowner was] probably taken aback because I had been pressing the doorbell like 50 times in a row.”
Birchett’s husband came to pick her up at the home a few moments later.
Birchett decided to ask around for any camera footage of the encounter, what she found was terrifying.
“When I grabbed all the footage from the other neighbors, my neighbor said, ‘I am terrified watching this. Seeing you in the situation it is clear as day that this car was following you,'” Birchett said. “And that’s where it sunk like when I called dispatch and when I saw the footage I was just like all the feelings came flooding. I was like sad and scared and afraid and angry.”
Birchett called police who filed a case and took the footage she had collected.
She also posted the footage on her Instagram and on her neighborhood Facebook page. A neighbor messaged Birchett privately and said they had seen the same vehicle driving around the neighborhood at 1:45 p.m.
Birchett said police have tracked the vehicle by its license plate, but it’s connected to a residence in California.
“Honestly, take whatever precautions you need to take whether that’s self-defense classes, whether that’s thinking more about your game plan, like where you run, where you would run to, maybe who you would alert. Keep that 911 on speed dial,” Birchett said.
Birchett shares her story in hopes that it will help other women to plan ahead and turn to resources to aid in a similar situation. However, she said sharing her story has brought some criticism of why she didn’t handle things differently.
“That’s why I share my story and why I’m so willing to put my story out there because it’s hard. Like I’ve gotten a lot of critique. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, but you get those few comments that are very, like, why didn’t she call 911? Why wasn’t she carrying pepper spray?'” Birchett said.
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She tries to not let the comments get to her.
“I think it’s out of good intentions. I really do feel like a lot of times, they’re on edge about it. They don’t want to see it happen,” Birchett said. “So I think naturally, it’s instinctually easy to just assume that we want resources and we want criticism, we want critique we want answers. Whereas a lot of times, it’s not always necessary. Sometimes we need that relatability. we need the comfort.”
She said sometimes it might be hard for others to understand the fear women frequently experience.
“For a lot of females, that is their number one thought, they walk out the door and they’re like, ‘am I going to return back to my family?’ Like, ‘is somebody gonna follow me on my run? Am I going to have an encounter?'” she said.
Birchett continues to train outside for her marathon. Although, she did purchase a dog who will be joining her on her runs.
“I’m a big believer that life shouldn’t be feared,” Birchett said. “My message, I hope that by sharing it, it doesn’t intimidate mothers to hop on a treadmill and lock themselves to a box because I’ve done that for so many years. The joy of running was lost for me for quite a few years because of my fear of running outside. I hope that this encourages people to take that self-defense class and use this rather than discourage you.”