PHOENIX – With two serial killers on the loose in Phoenix, Marnie Reiher knows she should stay off her front porch. She shouldn't answer the door. And if the cats sneak out at night, she should leave them on their own till morning.
"But then I'd be giving in," said Reiher, 36, who refuses to hunker down even though she lives a few blocks from where one of the killers struck. "I'd be imprisoning myself."
It is a common feeling in this city of 1.5 million, where gunmen have randomly shot dozens of people since May 2005, killing 13. While many still shutter themselves inside their homes, a growing number have decided to fight back.
They are patrolling their neighborhoods at night, cell phones and emergency whistles in hand. Some have started new block watch groups, while others have donned the red berets and white T-shirts of the Guardian Angels, who are starting a chapter here.
At community meetings, women remind each other of the safety advice they heard while growing up: Squeeze a car key between your fingers and you have a knife. Wear your purse in the front so someone can't strangle you with the strap. Keep your head up. Make eye contact. Kick him in the groin.
"It's not like we didn't know there are crimes in Phoenix," said Wendy Fields, 42, who delivers rental tuxedos. "But we always thought they were in another part of town. Guess what? The shootings are right here where we live."
Every night last week, Fields marched through her neighborhood after work and stood sentry in a park with the Guardian Angels.
"This is a nice place," she said. "I want to keep it that way."
Police have no suspects in either case.
They believe the attacks started more than a year ago, beginning with a gunman who fires from a car and has been dubbed the Serial Shooter. That assailant — police do not know if they are dealing with a man or a woman, or if the shooter is acting alone — is thought to have killed five people, wounded 17 and targeted horses and dogs, too.
Another predator known as the Baseline Killer, so-called because some of the killings took place near Baseline Road, is thought to be responsible for eight more slayings and 11 sexual assaults since August. In all but one case, his victims were women. He attacks at close range.
The Baseline Killer tends to strike in the late afternoon and evening, while the Serial Shooter usually opens fire during the overnight hours.
Karate instructor Mike Wall has been teaching rape-awareness seminars to packed rooms since the attacks began. "When it's bad out there, business is great here," he said.
Even the best self-defense tips would be worthless against someone randomly shooting from a car, like the Serial Shooter. But if the attacker gets close enough to rape, he is close enough for a good tough kick to the middle.
Wall teaches his students to drop to their backs and kick at the attacker with their feet.
"Women really don't know how strong their legs are," Wall said.
At one of Wall's recent seminars, police Sgt. Paul Penzone told families to keep their eyes open. Phoenix neighborhoods can be anonymous places, divided by cinderblock walls and wide streets.
"The population growth in Phoenix is just overwhelming," Penzone said in an interview. "You're not going to know people who frequent your neighborhood. But if people took an active role in this, it would be like we had police officers on every street corner."
So far, the message has been working. The Silent Witness tip line that Penzone manages has been loaded with calls in recent weeks.
Reiher and her mother now call 911 every time they hear gunfire. Shots are common at night in Phoenix, said Dyan Reiher, 58.
"We used to ignore them," she said. "We used to think they were far away. But really, those gunshots could be coming from anywhere."
Marnie also has been busy making safety whistles for everyone in the neighborhood. She attaches them to bright, stretchy bracelets and adds a luggage tag with a message for both the wearer and any would-be attacker: "Not me."
"It means if you come near me, I'm going to blow this," Marnie said. "I'll blow this until I'm blue in the face. Don't come this way. Not here. Not me."