No matter where she we he was there By MARY A. FISCHER

No matter where she we he was there

By MARY A. FISCHER

On a spring day in 2004, Gayane Indzheyan was sitting outside a café in a busy mall near her home. The café adjoined a large bookstore bustling with the usual browers, groups of students, people writing on laptops, reading novels. Book buyers and coffee drinkers came and went. A normal Southern California day. Then Gayane happened to glance up and notice a man peering at her from the crowded car park. He stared at her with a strange intensity-their eyes met and then he was gone.

Gayane, a trim and stylish 34-year-old Armenian immigrant, owned a translation service and a dance studio. Ordering an ad for her studio at a local cable TV station one day, she met Ara Gabrielyan, who was the director of an Armenian music programme at the station. She found him to be intelligent, hard-working, a caring person, and they started dating.

Over time, however, his behavior began to change. He became more demanding and Gayane decided to break things off.

Now, she was sure it was Ara who had been watching her.

On another day, Gayane went to a cemetery to visit her brother’s grave. Only months before, at the age of 23, he had been struck by a car and killed while riding his bike. Gayane wound her way through the curving roads to the site. It would be easy to get lost in the vast grounds and groves if you didn’t know where you were going.

Yet as she stood in the shade on the peaceful, grassy hillside near her brother’s grave, she saw a figure at a distance intently watching.

It was Ara, again, the man she most wanted to avoid. He didn’t live far away, but how was it that he should be at this particular spot in the mazelike cemetery now?

When they began dating in October 2002, Gayane thought their relationship held promise. Both she and Ara were ambitious and doing well professionally. In addition to his work at the cable station, Ara, then 30, owned a CD and video store. At first, he seemed like a nice, normal guy, albeit a bit intense. He was polite, well mannered, and he took her out to nice restaurants; gayane responded by cooking dinners for him.

Soon a more troubling side of Ara emerged. His behavior was becoming erratic. In January 2004 he was arrested for credit card fraud and Gayane came to his rescue. She put up enough cash to bail him out, but the relationship continued to take a downward turn. Gayane felt she could not trust him any longer and decided to bring things to an end.

She chose February 15, the day after Valentine’s Day. She made soup at Ara’s apartment; they sat down to dinner, and then she told him the hard news.

“I can’t be your girlfriend anymore,’’ she said. “I don’t feel anything other than being friends.’’ Ara was stunned. “It’s not going to happen,’’ she heard him say. “It’s going to be me or no one else in your life for the rest of your life.’’ He flew into a rage and trashed the apartment. But he hadn’t harmed her. And she’d said what needed to be said: she hoped they could remain friends. She wanted some distance, needed to move on with her life.

The break was not quite quick and complete. In fact, the relationship took an on-again, off-again pattern: Ara pleading and Gayane relenting. In may she told him she didn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore.

But ara continued to call daily. He became obsessed with Gayane, phoning her at home, the office, on her cell phone, 20 or even 30 times a day. She couldn’t concentrate at work or home. It was all too frightening. “You owe me something,’’ he would tell her. Gayane notified the telephone company and they put a block on her phone. Now, a recorded message asked callers to announce their names so Gayane could screen them. knowing who was calling gave her some peace of mind.

One day, battling the highway traffic, Gayane made her way to los Angeles airport to pick up a riend. The airport was, as usual, jammed with cars. Concrete barriers and new routing after 9/11 complicated arrival and departures, backing up entrances and exits to the parking structures. As she bumped along through the terminal’s drive-through, she saw Ara in his black Cadillc.

After that he showed up at Gayane’s office and at her mother’s house. He was waiting in his car on a road she travelled every morning-just sitting and staring at her as she drove by.

Then, on August 25, she looked out of her office window and saw a car parked behind hers. A man was lying on the ground partly underneath her vehicle. Gayane went outside and demanded to know what he was doing.

Ara stood up. His car had broken down, he said; he was fixing it. The story sounded fishy, but she noticed blood on his fingers and loose wires sticking out from under his car. She thought maybe he was telling the truth. They spoke briefly and then Ara left.

Two nights later, Gayane saw a faint light moving right to left outside her living room window. As she went to look out, shaking in fear, she suddenly couldn’t feel her feet under her body. Outside, in the dark, she saw Ara, holding his luminous cell phone. Immediately, she closed the blinds. He had been calling her repeatedly, but with caller ID, she’d been able to ignore him. now he was stalking her at her doorstep.

Out of sheer frustration, she picked up the phone. “I asked you not to call me,’’ Gayane said. “I will call the police. Leave!’’ she tried to sleep but couldn’t. she kept getting up, fearful he was still around the house.

The next morning, she was blow-drying her hair in the first-floor bathroom when she saw his silhouette through the balcony window. There were no stairs to the balcony: he must have climbed the fence.

Ara began pounding on the window with his fist. His behavior seemed to be escalating to a new level. Panicked, Gayane called the police, and an officer was sent. Afraid to wait, Gayane grabbed her pause and got in her car. Ara gave chase and got in her car. Ara gave chase and tried to cut her off. As she fled, a police car came speeding towards her house. Ara pulled over-then drove away.

Later that day, Gayane went to her office. It was on a busy street and she hoped that would deter Ara from doing anything crazy. yet he traced her to the office and drove up and down in front of the building for hours, calling her constantly on both her work phone lines.

Finally, she took his call, just to make the incessant ringing stop. “You reported me to the police,’’ he said.

“Either you’re going to be mine or together we’ll go to eternity.’’

Frantic, she went to her sister’s house. The, acting on a premonition, Gayane called her home number-and Ara answered.

“Yes, I’m here,’’ he told her, “and since you don’t pick up my calls, I’m going to call you from your own number. What I’m doing now is just one percent of my abilities. If I use all hundred percent, you’d rather be dead.’’

The stalking had gone on for so long and had been so stressful that maybe Gayane wasn’t thinking straight. It was only the next day, August 29, four days after she found Ara under her car, that the light dawned and the whole sequence of disturbing encounters made sense. She pulled over to check under the car, and then called the police.

The officer who arrived did a quick check and found a black box attached to the chassis with magnets. Inside the box was a cell phone equipped with a Global Positioning system (GPS) that activated whenever the car moved. A signal was transmitted to a satellite and then to a website that allowed Ara to track her.

When Gayane had caught him under her car, the police theorized, he must have been trying to change the phone’s battery.

Detective Tracy Lowrey arrested Ara, who was charged with multiple counts of stalking and criminal threats. If convicted, he faced a six year prison sentence.

In Ara’s car, the police found other evidence. On the front seat were detailed Internet driving directions to Cancun, Mexico, where Gayane was planning to take a vacation. Ara’s visa had expired, and he couldn’t fly, so apparently he intended to follow her. The police viewed this as part of a pattern – an absolute need for control and an escalating series of events that could possibly lead to murder – suicide.

But why did it take so long for Gayane to seek help from the police? The police say that Gayane’s behavior and her resolve not to anger Ara further by reporting him was chillingly typical of stalking cases.

Less typical were the stalker’s methods: Normally, GP tracking technology, now included in many cell phones certain makes of cars, is used by drivers to get directions. It also helps law enforcement personnel track criminal suspects, and assists emergency service operators in locating callers.

At the preliminary hearing, Ara sat at the defence table with his lawyers, and glared at Gayane as she testified about her ordeal. But ultimately he pleaded no contest to one count of stalking and one count of making criminal threats, thereby avoiding a trial.

He was sentenced to 16 months in prison. He served a little more than nine months, and was released to immigration authorities. Held first in a detention centre, Ara Gabrielyan was deported to the Republic of Armenia.

MARY A. FISCHER

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