Whenever we see a character caught up in something really cool—and really far-fetched—on television, we usually have a simple response: it’s just fiction. That doesn’t happen in real life.

But don’t be so hasty to judge. All those outlandish tales might just come in handy, as they did recently for Julie Dragland, a late-night crime drama junkie in Oakland, California. She was riding the Bay Area’s public transit system when a TV trick she once thought to be pure fiction might have saved her life.

The whole saga started when a passenger handed her a sinister note…

You know the old adage often declared loudly by your parents, bookworms, and lovers of the outdoors: television will rot your brain. More than that: it’s certain to turn you into the ever-prevalent couch potato. But in Julie Dragland’s case, it might have saved her life.

Julie Dragnard / Facebook

Julie lived in Oakland, California, across the bay from San Francisco. She worked as a PR Specialist for SEGA Networks, and she indulged in the occasional crime drama when it came time to kick her feet up and relax.

Julie Dragnard / Facebook

Of course, you might expect that crime shows on TV aren’t any good for more than killing a few post-work hours. They’re mostly fiction, after all. Julie might have agreed—that is, right up until September 2017, when she faced a terrifying scenario she’d already seen before on TV…

Senior Airman Justine Rho / U.S. Air Force

It was about 5 p.m. and Julie was on a Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) train. Since it was Saturday, the train was free of the usual horde of rush-hour riders. The 32-year-old rode to Dublin, an East Bay city, with just 15 other passengers, one of whom had sinister intentions.

Htichster / Twitter

As the train passed through San Francisco, a woman with strawberry-blonde hair sat down behind Julie. Cameras captured the ensuing scene as the stranger casually dropped a note on Julie’s lap. Julie picked it up and read it over. Then, she panicked.

The Climate Reality Project / Unsplash

Anyone who’s ever ridden public transportation—especially the BART—will tell you that it isn’t unheard of for strangers to hand out notes. Usually, the messages claim a debilitating ailment and ask for cash. This note, however, put its own spin on the practice.


Written in red ink, the note carried a terrifying message: “There are two guns pointed at you now. If you want to live hand back your wallet + phone NOW + do not turn around and be discreet. Do not turn around until after you have left Civic Center + you will live.”

Baby Jules / Twitter

Then, Julie did what anyone in her situation would do: “I started freaking out,” she later told the San Francisco Chronicle. She didn’t want to give up her stuff, of course, but what could she do? Heart racing, she surveyed her surroundings. Something stood out.

Julie Dragnard / Facebook

What stood out to Julie as the seconds ticked away? Nothing—and that was something. She saw no evidence of guns, no one watching her every move from across the train. Was there truth to this note? Would she truly be killed if she did anything but comply?


“Is somebody really going to shoot someone for a phone and a wallet?” she relayed later to the Chronicle. “I started to question it a little bit, but I was still really scared.” Nonetheless, she needed to do something. The robber was waiting.

Baby Jules / Twitter

Taking stock of her surroundings to make sure, once more, that no one had a gun leveled at her, she mouthed “help me” to the man sitting across from her. He didn’t notice, apparently, because he left the train at the next stop.

Jeff Marcowitz / Flickr

With hope exiting the train somewhere around 16th Street, Julie had few practical and discreet options left: hand over her wallet and phone or take the chance that there weren’t guns pointed at her. Then, a crazy idea struck her—and she’d gotten it from TV!

Jeremiah Cox / Subway Nut

Julie determined that she had to fake a seizure. It was a risky strategy, but it was crazy enough to work. “If I fake a seizure or fake like I’m passing out, I’m not even not complying,” she told CBS San Francisco.


Hoping someone would come over to her and, at the very least, make it a tough shot for the alleged gunmen, Julie put on a performance. “I slumped sideways and started shaking and crying, I closed my eyes and increased the vigor so people would pay attention.

Would her stunt land her in hotter water?

Julie Dragnard / Facebook

As Julie convulsed in the train seat, a nearby couple noticed. Like good Samaritans, they rushed to check on her, and that’s when Julie handed over the note. Once the couple read through the bold, red-ink threat, they understood exactly what was happening.

Baby Jules / Twitter

Apparently, drawing attention to herself did the trick. As Julie reported, the strawberry-blonde woman she assumed—and who cameras later confirmed—to be the note-passer exited the train as it stopped at the Civic Center station. Julie was safe—or was she?

As it turned out, there weren’t two gunmen sitting on the train waiting to shoot Julie. The note was a lie; it was a scam designed to get some money out of someone panicking for his or her life. Later, authorities searched the Civic Center station for evidence of the stranger.

RobVSF / Flickr

Authorities found no evidence of the woman at the station, but they did see her on the BART’s cameras. Still, Julie didn’t care if they caught her or not; she wasn’t going to press charges, and she hoped to leave the incident in the past. She remained level-headed afterwards.

Bay Area Rapid Transit / People

In fact, Julie relayed the whole experience very matter-of-factually on Twitter. “Someone just tried to rob me ‘at gunpoint’ on BART. They sat behind me and dropped this note into my lap.” Later, with her head clear, Julie recalled where exactly her seizure idea came from.

Julie Dragnard / Facebook

“I think it had something to do with watching a lot of Law & Order,” Julie said. “I think I saw that in an episode. I was very impressed with myself.” So there you have it, folks. Yeah, a little TV might rot your brain, but it also might just save your life!

Julie Dragnard / Facebook

It’s impressive that Julie was able to stay calm with that note on her lap. Calling a robber’s bluff and thwarting the attempt is like something out of, well… a crime drama!

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