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Emotional trauma may have kept Amy Lord from fleeing

Lord and her vehicle were captured on surveillance video Tuesday.

Boston Police Department

Lord and her vehicle were captured on surveillance video Tuesday.

It is the question asked by so many people trying to will the story of Amy Lord’s slaying to a different end: Why didn’t she run when she appeared to have the chance?

Beaten and terrorized, Lord was probably in such fear of her assailant that escape did not seem possible, specialists said Thursday.

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A surveillance camera captured the 24-year-old stepping out of the passenger side of a sport utility vehicle, along a busy Boston road in the morning light Tuesday, cars passing nearby. Police say the image, released to the news media, was captured during Lord’s abduction, when she was forced to withdraw cash from five bank machines. Presumably, her attacker was in the driver’s seat.

It is impossible to know what was going through Lord’s mind at that moment or whether she had tried to get away earlier or would try later. Police have not said whether her abductor was armed. But a law enforcement official said that her attacker brutally beat her in her South Boston apartment that morning, and specialists who study the mind-set of victims and assailants said that trauma could help explain why she did not escape.

Lord may have made the same judgment many others have made in a moment of terror, believing that the safest option was to go along with her attacker’s demands, said Dr. Ronald Schouten, director of the law and psychiatry service at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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“You want to believe — it’s survival mode — if I do what I’m told, this person won’t hurt me,” he said.

Perpetrators in cases such as this one often display an ability “to be calming and manipulative,” even if they are also violent, said Schouten, who coauthored the book “Almost a Psychopath.” They terrorize and cajole, convincing their victims that if they do as they are told, they will escape further harm, he said.

Specialists interviewed for this article were not involved in the investigation but spoke generally about patterns of victimization. Often in such crimes, they said, attackers know their victims and use threats against them or their loved ones as a means of control.

Police have given no indication that was the case with Lord. No one has been charged, but police have called Edwin J. Alemany a “person of interest.” The 28-year-old has been accused of attacking two other women in the same area Tuesday and Wednesday.

Dr. Harold Bursztajn, a psychiatrist and founder of the program in psychiatry and the law at Harvard Medical School, said that head trauma could have played a role in Lord’s case, if she had been badly beaten, leaving her confused or disoriented. People respond in a variety of ways to emotional trauma, he said.

“The usual acute traumatic stress disorder involves either fight, which some people do, flight, or if you’re badly enough injured, people freeze,” he said.

“She may have been, literally speaking, scared stiff.”

Often, victims are afraid of escalating the violence against them, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University. He pointed to the murder of eight nursing students in Chicago in 1966 by just one man, Richard Speck. Speck tied the women up in their apartment, promising that all he wanted was money, and then killed them.

“People just oftentimes trust that he wants the money . . . that taking my life is not going to get him anything,” Fox said. “They reason. They believe that, logically, the best move is then not to get them angry.”

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@
boston.com
. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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