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Lessons From NYC Actress' Death

As an actress, Nicole duFresne had roles in dozens of way-off-Broadway productions.

But it was an unfortunate real-life line witnesses say duFresne uttered before her slaying — "What are you going to do, shoot us?" — that has brought her to the public's attention.

Authorities have refused to speculate whether the 28-year-old actress and playwright's defiant stand against a bandit prompted him to shoot her to death last week on a New York City street.

"Regardless of what the victim said or did not say, the person responsible for her death is the one who pulled the trigger," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said earlier this week.

Safety advocates, however, have cited the case as a lesson in how not to respond to a holdup.

On Wednesday, the Washington-based National Crime Prevention Council responded to widespread reports about duFresne's last words by circulating a list of tips on how to survive a mugging.

"It demonstrates that confronting an attacker is probably the worst thing you can do," said council spokesman Todd Post.

DuFresne, a Minnesota transplant who had lived in Seattle before coming to New York, listed "stage combat" as one of her skills on her Internet resume. She was leaving a bar with her fiancé and another couple at about 3 a.m. Jan. 27 when they were accosted by a group of youths who had already tried to rob another person earlier in the evening.

Witnesses told police that when the group demanded the other woman's purse, duFresne responded with: "What are you going to do, shoot us?" Police said she also might have gotten into a brief shoving match with the shooter before he fired a bullet into her chest.

Police arrested the alleged triggerman, Rudy Fleming, 19, and two teenage girls they say took a cell phone and credit cards and helped hide the murder weapon. All three have been charged with murder and robbery.

On its tip sheet, the crime prevention council advises potential victims to stay cool and comply with robbers. At the same time, people should take mental notes on what the assailant looks like so they can provide a detailed description to police, the sheet says.

A robbery "is more about power than anything," said Alfonso E. Lenhardt, president of the nonprofit council, known for its McGruff the Crime Dog mascot.

"It's a tragedy, but in this case it sounds like (the suspect) felt he wasn't getting the respect he was due," Lenhardt said. "When a gun is in the hands of a desperate person with low self-esteem, they're going to react that way."

The others charged in the killing are Ashley Evans, 18, and Tatianna McDonald, 14. Two young men were charged in the earlier robbery attempt, while two other youths are considered by police to be witnesses.

A graduate of Emerson College in Boston, duFresne was a founding member of the Present Tense Theater Project and acted with the LAByrinth Theater Co., according to her online resume. She wrote a play called "Burning Cage" with Mary Jane Gibson, the woman with her and her fiancé at the time of the shooting.

"Burning Cage," about two women in an asylum who are targeted for brainwashing experiments with LSD, toured in 2002 at theater festivals in Canada and the United States.

DuFresne's other play, "Matter," is about an amnesiac whose apartment is taken over by a violent and seductive intruder. It was performed in Brooklyn in 2003.

By Tom Hays