Sometimes the smallest sign can suggest something is wrong — like a missing Wordle score.
When 80-year-old grandmother Denyse Holt failed to text her daily score for Wordle, her two daughters thought it was strange, since she always shared her results from the popular online puzzle in which players try to guess a five-letter word.
When Holt failed to respond or even read their texts or answer the phone, the daughters, who live on the West Coast, got worried. When they had a neighbor check her house in Lincolnwood, Illinois, and her car was there but she didn’t answer, they knew something was wrong.
Police were called and found a broken window with blood on the scene, suggesting a break-in. Using the neighbor’s key, they entered, asking, “Is anybody home?”
“I’m here,” Holt called, from inside a basement bathroom where she’d been barricaded by a naked intruder threatening her with scissors. Police rescued her and arrested James H. Davis III, of Chicago, the man who they say held her hostage and in fear for her life for nearly 21 hours. Her daughter said it was her mother’s calm during the crisis that may have kept her alive.
Seattle-based Meredith Holt-Caldwell said her mother was trying to stay calm, avoiding any emotional outburst or sudden movement that could escalate the situation.
At one point, Holt even assured her captor, “You’re the captain. I’m on your team.”
“She’s amazing,” Holt-Caldwell said. “She doesn’t really know how she was able to remain that calm. She just kind of played along and made him feel as though he was in charge.”
Around 1 a.m. Sunday, police said, a naked man broke through a window to enter Holt’s home, got into bed with her and threatened her with scissors.
He took away Holt’s phones, then forced her to stay in the basement bathroom, barricading her inside with a chair, police said.
When the man threatened her, Holt, a former middle school teacher, told him it scared her, which prompted him to throw away the scissors and declare he wouldn’t hurt her.
But when she was forced to wait for hours in the bathroom, she feared that the longer the ordeal went on, the more she was in danger.
After police rescued her, Holt stayed at a friend’s house, and her daughter arrived on an overnight flight to be with her. Through her daughter Holt-Caldwell, she emphasized her gratitude to police.
“Lincolnwood police were so wonderful, they made her feel so safe,” Holt-Caldwell said. “They did such an incredible job. They’re part of the reason she’s here today.”
After Holt was taken out of the house, police said, they found Davis in an upstairs bedroom, armed with knives and refusing to surrender. They tried unsuccessfully to disable him with an electric Taser shock, then called in a SWAT team through the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System, or NIPAS, which was able to Taser Davis and arrest him, Parrott said.
Davis, 32, whose last known address was in the 700 block of North Dearborn Avenue, was charged with home invasion with a dangerous weapon, a class X felony; aggravated kidnapping while armed with a dangerous weapon, a class X felony; and two counts of aggravated assault against a peace officer, a class 4 felony.
Davis, who police believed was going through a mental health crisis, was ordered held without bond in Cook County Jail.
Holt-Caldwell said the family is still in shock, and the daughters want to give their mother a fresh start after being traumatized in their childhood home, where every room was left bloodstained by the ordeal.
“We want this to be a message, to reach out to your loved ones when they’re far away,” Holt-Caldwell said. “Don’t be lackadaisical. You can do something from 3,500 miles away. You can save lives and make a difference. Have a plan in place. If there’s weird behavior that doesn’t match, do some investigating.”
“If something seems not right, please call us and let us investigate,” Lincolnwood police Chief Jay Parrott said. People may be reluctant to bother police, he said, but he added, “Please bother us.”
(Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.)