Northeast Tarrant

Attacked in college, retired FBI agent now teaches self-defense classes in Roanoke

Students shoot at targets during Jennifer Coffindaffer's self-defense and tactical firearms class.
Students shoot at targets during Jennifer Coffindaffer's self-defense and tactical firearms class. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

The recent killing of Terri “Missy” Bevers in a Midlothian church brought back a flood of memories for Jennifer Coffindaffer.

Coffindaffer, a retired FBI agent, was a freshman at Wichita State University in 1985 and planning to go to law school. She had no interest in law enforcement.

That changed one night when she was attacked and nearly raped.

“Once that happened, nothing else (but law enforcement) crossed my mind,” said Coffindaffer, who lives in Westlake.

After making the switch to law enforcement Coffindaffer served 25 years as a special agent in the FBI, working a variety of jobs from gang task forces to drug trafficking to terrorism in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.

She retired in January and decided, because of the 1985 attack and her FBI experience, to begin teaching a self-defense class, called Firearms Beyond International (the acronym is intentional.)

She and other similarly experienced instructors teach students “so that the first time they’re ever in fear for their safety, they’re equipped.”

The high-profile murder case of Bevers, a 45-year-old mother of three who was killed April 18 inside Creekside Church of Christ in Midlothian, perfectly illustrates why Coffindaffer created the course. Bevers’ attacker remains at large.

“This loss is terrible and exactly why I am so passionate about preparing ladies for situations just like this,” Coffindaffer said. “This is proactively taking that step before something bad has to happen.”

‘I knew I was in trouble’

Coffindaffer was 19 when she was attacked.

She pulled into her friend’s apartment complex in Wichita, Kan., and thought a car had followed her there. After getting out and collecting her books, she headed toward the apartment’s foyer and heard footsteps.

“I caught eyes with a man coming up behind me and I knew I was in trouble,” she said.

She dropped everything and ran to the foyer door, but he caught her, she said. Standing 5-foot-1 with a thin build, she was overpowered.

He forced her to the ground and tried to rape her, she said.

Coffindaffer said she tried to get away and screamed.

As they started to hear sirens, the assailant struggled to carry her to his car, which was manned by an accomplice, but she grabbed onto a nearby railing and “held on as tight as I could.”

As the sound of sirens grew closer the attacker gave up and fled in the car.

Hours later, Coffindaffer said, a different young woman in Wichita was raped. The attacker was believed to be responsible for 12 other similar crimes in the area, but he was never arrested.

“The fact that he was never caught definitely made me want to purse a career where I can help people in similar situations,” she said.

‘Applicable to everyone’

While working for the FBI, Coffindaffer said she had to be prepared for violence “too many times.”

Those encounters help her when teaching others to defend themselves.

To avoid being a victim of violence, Coffindaffer it’s important to take precautions — especially at your home. She said having a home security system and a dog (or at least a Beware of Dog sign) go a long way in preventing bad things from happening.

Outside the home, she says it’s critical to always be heightened state of awareness, especially if it’s dark and there aren’t many people around.

“There are so many situations you’re in where you are vulnerable,” she said. “To not properly educated yourself to appropriately protect yourself and your family, I think it’s a missed opportunity and it gives bad guys a leg up.”

The classes include training in defensive tactics, confronting terrorism and firearms.

She said some people are intimidated by guns and understand that, but said even if you don’t own or carry a gun, “I encourage people to all be educated about firearms.”

The class doesn’t really get into domestic violence, she said.

Other instructors include retired FBI agents Steve Gomez and Donnie Miller, both of whom have 22 years experience with the agency.

Coffindaffer said the classes started in March and so far, almost as many men have taken the class as women.

Some of the classes are taught at the DFW Adventure Park in Roanoke.

“It’s something that is applicable to everyone,” she said.

This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.

Mark David Smith: 817-390-7808, @MarkSmith_FWST

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