11-year-old abduction survivor honored
Middleburg girl, her brother honored during Florida Missing Children's Day
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Courage, bravery and strength were three of the reasons why Florida's governor and top law enforcement officers called a Middleburg girl a hero.
The child, whom News4Jax is not naming, was 10 years old in December when detectives said a registered sexual predator killed her mother, abducted the girl and drove off in the family van. She was able to convince the man to let her go and he was arrested eight hours later after a massive man hunt.
This girl, who has endured more than a girl her age, or anyone for that matter, should ever have to endure, was honored during Florida's Missing Children's Day ceremonies because of the way she handled the terrible situation.
Clay County Sheriff's Office detectives said her mother, 37 year old Roseann Welsh, was killed inside her family's Middlburg home by Donald Davidson. Davidson was just released from prison and knew the family. Investigators said he cut off his court-ordered GPS ankle monitor before the murder. They said the girl would have likely been killed as well if she hadn't stayed strong.
"Thank God she had the wherewithal that she was able to make good decisions and save her life, and hopefully save other people's lives because of her actions," Gov. Rick Scott said. "It's impressive that such a young lady like that can do such a heroic act."
Her family wants her story told, but because she's so young and because what happened to her was so terrible, News4Jax is not using her name.
"I actually tried to escape twice," she said.
She decided to reason with her captor.
"Yeah, I was like, 'Where is your wife and kids?' That's what I said to him," she said. "I don't know; I just compromised with him. I was just talking to him, that's all I did, and then he let me go."
She said he left her on the side of the road.
"It was because of her presence of mind that she was able to convince the abductor to let her go," Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Donna Uzzell said.
Months later, this now 11-year-old girl and her older brother, who is now 14, were honored. He was the one who found her mother murdered, but kept calm enough to call 911 and report her dead and his sister missing.
"I got an award for something that shouldn't have even happened in my life," he said. "It's early on in my life. It should have never happened."
Both brother and sister helped remember other missing kids across the state, giving roses and support.
The siblings have been through so much, but are sticking together.
Big brother has been so strong for his sister, helping her smile even through the saddest times. She is young, but already knows she wants to be a teacher.
"It's because I want to help children learn," she said. "And I also want to donate money to charity. Any type of charity for children that are homeless or poor."
During the ceremony, the girl went up to Diena Thompson, mother of Somer Thompson, and asked if there's anything she can do for her.
The sister and brother said they are so appreciative of everyone who has been there for them over the last several months. They wanted to thank their father, their family, the victim's advocates with the Justice Coalition and everyone else who has helped them.
The two were surprised with tickets to Universal Studios because of what they did.
The suspect in the murder and abduction, Donald Davidson, remains in jail awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual battery and car theft. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty.
Others honored during Florida Missing Children's Day were:
John and Revé Walsh Award -- Mr. Phil Keith, retired Knoxville, Tennessee, Police Chief and former Director of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program
During his career, Keith provided national leadership, coordination, and resources to prevent and respond to endangered missing, abducted and exploited children. Under his guidance, Florida's law enforcement community has benefited from a variety of training and technical assistance.
Commissioner's Award -- Florida Sheriffs Association, Florida Police Chiefs Association, and Florida Association of School Resource Officers
These associations and their members partnered with FDLE to successfully implement the AMBER, Missing Child Alert and Silver Alert Programs and partner each year in the coordination of the Florida Missing Children's Day ceremony.
Evelyn Williams Memorial Award -- Ms. Crystal Freed, Freed Law Firm, P.A., Jacksonville
Freed facilitated human trafficking training for all state attorneys, U.S. attorneys, federal judges, and agents from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. She was instrumental in the creation of the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Working Group.
Essay Contest Winner -- Brayden Hill, Florida Virtual School Connections Academy
Brayden won top honors in this year's statewide essay contest where fifth graders were asked to write an essay titled "This is how I stay safe all day."
Department of Justice Poster Contest Recognition -- Camille Crosthwait, St. Petersburg Christian School
Camille was recognized as the statewide winner in the national poster contest. The theme was, "Bring Our Missing Children Home."
Local Law Enforcement Officer of the Year -- Deputy Sheriff Daniel Delia, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office
On May 11, 2014, Delia responded to the Olympia Community Clubhouse in Wellington regarding a missing 17-year-old girl. During the investigation, Delia learned the child had been in contact online with an adult male. Delia canvassed the nearest Greyhound Bus station and discovered the child purchased a Greyhound bus ticket. The next scheduled bus stop was in Jacksonville. Working with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Delia was able to successfully recover the child before she left Florida.
State Law Enforcement Officer of the Year -- Special Agent Jose Ramirez, FDLE Orlando
Ramirez was assigned to implement an investigative strategy in conjunction with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's initiative to combat and prosecute human trafficking. He developed a program to educate law enforcement and prosecutors about this crime and provided training on how to conduct successful criminal investigations. In one of the major investigations that Ramirez conducted this past year, he arrested a regional drug trafficker who had transitioned into human/sex trafficking as a means to further his criminal enterprise. This case was the first successful prosecution utilizing Florida's newly enacted Human Trafficking Statute.
Law Enforcement Task Force/Team of the Year -- Missing Persons Squad-Miami Dade Police Department
In February of 2015, the Special Victims Bureau was contacted regarding a missing and endangered 14-year-old female who said she was being held against her will by two adult males. Thanks to the investigative efforts of the Miami Dade detectives, the child was located at a residence in Miami Beach. The girl was rescued and transported to a hospital. The two male suspects were arrested.
The Jimmy Ryce Trailing Team of the Year -- Brevard County Sheriff's Office Jail Complex Corrections Deputy Patrick Arquette and K9s Earle and Cletus
On Jan. 26, 2015, Corrections Deputy Arquette and his K9 partners were called to locate a missing 9-year-old autistic boy. After hours of searching, a helicopter spotted the boy deep in the woods. Using that information, Arquette and his K9s were able to locate the boy and carry him to safety.
Combatting Human Trafficking Award -- Sgt. Jarritt Negri, Seminole County Sheriff's Office
Negri investigates missing and endangered juveniles. He has rescued runaways that have been trafficked or lured into the commercial sex trade industry, including one this year. Negri should not only be commended for his police work but also for his compassion and understanding of complex issues faced by human trafficking victims.
School Bus Operator of the Year -- Gwendolyn Brinson and Kathy Ritter, Broward County Schools
On April 30, 2015, Brinson and Ritter noticed a child talking to an adult male suspect. Because the child normally walked home alone, Brinson and Ritter sensed danger and stopped the bus. They told the child to run home and tell her parents. Witnesses obtained the vehicle tag number and the suspect was arrested for lewd and lascivious exhibition. He had been involved in a similar incident involving another young child.
Citizen of the Year -- Angela Grillo, Cooper City
Grillo put herself in harm's way when she attempted to stop an abduction. On Dec. 3, 2014, after seeing a suspect forcing a female into his vehicle, Grillo ran to help the victim and attempted to pull her out of the car. Unfortunately, Grillo was unsuccessful and the suspect sped off with the victim. She called 911 and followed the suspect's vehicle until Broward County Sheriff's Office deputies arrived, arresting the suspect and rescuing the victim.
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