"I'd never seen terror like that in a little girl's eyes," remembers Inspector Anton Sampson of the Federal Protective Service, Department of Homeland Security. When a young neighbor came to his door and told him a man was holding her friend at gunpoint in the house down the street, he rushed to the girl's aid and brought her to safety. For his quick action Sampson has been named the August 2011 Officer of the Month by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The afternoon of April 11, Sampson had just come home from work and changed out of his uniform. He was standing at his front door talking to a contractor he'd hired in the past when a 9-year-old girl who lived in his neighborhood ran up to him. "She was just horrified," Sampson says. "She said, 'There's a guy with a gun and he's got my friend.'"
There was no question what he would do. With the girl safely inside his house, Sampson ran upstairs to grab his gun and badge and rushed outside toward the house where the girl said her friend Sydney Lawrence was in danger.
As he approached the house, the investigator could see the front door was open and one of the garage doors was up. As he got closer, he heard movement in the garage, and called out, "Police! Come out with your hands up!"
Instead of getting a response, he heard the door slam. Whoever it was had gone inside. Sampson suspected a home invasion robbery, and he determined it was time to act.
First, Sampson instructed the contractor, who had followed him to the house, to call 911 on his cell phone and indicate where they were, what was happening, and what Sampson was wearing so he wouldn't be mistaken for one of the perpetrators.
Then Sampson heard something near the back door to the house, so he moved toward it. "Just as I could make out a figure on the deck, the person fired two shots at me," Sampson recalls. The inspector returned two shots before the man jumped off the deck and ran into the woods abutting the backyard.
"Once he got about 60 yards out, and he just kept running away from me, I decided the threat was going away, so I went back to the house to check on the little girl," he says. "I was able to find the little girl in the house, safe. I pulled her out and covered her as we moved back to my house."
Once Sampson had removed Sydney to safety, she told him her grandmother was still in the house. By that point, local police and the ESU team Sampson is a member of had arrived. He passed along the information, and they cleared the house and made sure the grandmother was safe.
Sampson later found out a second perpetrator armed with a knife had exited the front of the house and run past the contractor while Sampson was in the backyard. The contractor gave police a description, and the man was apprehended by local police nearby. The other man was captured in the woods by a K-9 unit. The two men are awaiting a court date.
Sydney Lawrence's family held a surprise party for Sampson a week after the incident to thank him for saving the little girl and her grandmother. Both girls involved in the incident play with his two children. The inspector says as a father, he hopes that if there were another cop in his neighborhood in the same situation, he or she would do the same for his children.
"The neighborhood, in general, is different now," Sampson says. "It's made the community a lot tighter to know that they weren't my children, but I put my life on the line to help them."
Sampson says it is "awesome" to be recognized by NLEOMF for his efforts, but he couldn't have done it without the training he received and continues on his own.
He relied on his federal law enforcement training in approaching the house. He credits the military training he received during his four years in the Marine Corps with his quick response to prevent something worse from transpiring. But he takes it upon himself to constantly run through scenarios in his head so that he'll know what to do when an incident occurs, because there's no time to plan once you're in the thick of it. "Act immediately and don't question yourself about what you're doing," he advises. "Listen to your training and your instincts and follow that."