When mom-of-two Brandie Weiler of Williamsburg, Virginia, saw two vehicles in a wreck on the highway near her home, she stopped her van to see if she could help. But as she approached the crashed cars, one of the victims fled his automobile on foot. And to Brandie’s horror, she saw him head to her parked van and then get in to it – with her daughters inside. Knowing he needed to be stopped, a panicked Brandie ran back to her vehicle. Then her daughters started screaming.
It was Easter weekend in 2017, and Brandie was driving her girls – Maddie, 12, and Mollie, seven – to Williamsburg’s Busch Gardens theme park for a day out. Suddenly the three of them saw a wreck up ahead. Two cars appeared to have collided by the Greensprings Road junction on John Taylor Highway, to the west of the city.
As Brandie’s eldest daughter, Maddie, told local television station WTKR in April 2017, “We saw the crash happen right before us, two cars in front of us.” Brandie stopped to see if she could do anything to assist the victims. She left her young daughters in her van.
Brandie got out of her vehicle, locking the driver-side door behind her. As she approached the crash site, she began to call 911 on her cell phone. But while she was doing so, she saw one of the crash victims get out of his car. And, right then, he did something completely unexpected.
The man – who has since been named as Paul Salsman – headed straight for Brandie’s parked vehicle. That struck the mom as a totally perverse move, and so immediately her attention switched from calling 911 to her daughters’ safety. Terrified, she began to run back to her vehicle.
“I could see him going towards the van, and I’m screaming,” Brandie told Fox News in April 2017. According to local police, the man approached the van, reached in through the open window, unlocked the door and got in behind the wheel. The carjacker then tried to take the vehicle, with the Weiler girls still inside.
Maddie later explained to WTKR, “He was saying all these things like, ‘Let’s go,’ and ‘I need to get to this place.”’ Salsman, it seemed, was determined to drive off – but the gutsy young girl wasn’t about to let that happen.
Yes, Maddie’s instincts kicked in as her thoughts turned to protecting her younger sister. She began to scream for help, and as she did, she started punching Salsman with all her might. As Maddie told People magazine, “I was steady beating him, beating his hand, his shoulder, his head – everything I could.”
As Maddie recalled, Mollie was screaming. The carjacker wasn’t to be deterred, though, and he tried to start the van. But as Salsman reached for the ignition, the fearless Maddie blocked him. Then she did something that would stop the assailant in his tracks – a move that prevented a nightmare scenario escalating into something truly horrific.
Maddie switched the gearshift into drive. The 12-year-old knew that if she moved the shifter, the ignition would jam – a safety feature of the van. With the starter disabled, Salsman would be unable to start the vehicle and drive off with Maddie and her little sister.
While all this was happening, Mollie managed to get out of the vehicle and screamed for help. “I thought he was going to take us,” the seven-year-old explained to Fox News. She stood and watched as her big sister continued to struggle with the 21-year-old carjacker.
Maddie was so determined to fight off the assailant that she hadn’t noticed that her sister had already escaped. Their appalled mom could only watch the events unfold as she ran back to the vehicle. “Once I saw Mollie out [of the van] I yelled for Maddie to get out,” she explained to Fox News.
Realizing that he wasn’t going anywhere, Salsman gave up. He fled Brandie’s van and then made desperate attempts to carjack two other vehicles. After a little more than five minutes, though, police arrived at the incident. According to Fox News, Salsman was tazered twice before being arrested.
In Maddie’s determination to protect her sister, she suffered a fractured wrist. Her mom described her injured daughter as a hero, while her dad, Steven, is sure that she prevented an “Amber Alert” – or child abduction emergency. So what was it that caused the daring pre-teen to take matters into her own hands?
Well, perhaps it was partly down to the fact that the Weiler girls have been raised in a family of cops and firefighters. Their mom and dad often play over dangerous situations, instilling in their daughters what to do should they ever find themselves in trouble. And they’re valuable lessons that have, it seems, stuck fast with young Maddie.
“She has always been told if anyone tries to take you, kick, scream, bite, hit, gouge out their eyes – whatever you have to do,” Steven explained to Fox News. Even so, there was one action that surprised even her parents. They didn’t realize that Maddie knew to how to prevent the vehicle from starting.
As Brandie explained to Inside Edition in April 2017, “I don’t know where it came from. Madison just said she had to do what she had to do to take care of Mollie. She’s tough. I never thought that she would be that. So it’s just like, ‘Whoa, wait…’ She held it together better than I did.”
“I was so hyped up on adrenaline, so I wasn’t really scared,” Maddie added to ABC News shortly after the event. “I knew what I needed to do. I was thinking about getting Mollie out and beating this guy up so [that] he couldn’t start the car – doing anything I could so [that] I could save Mollie.”
In a statement, Virginian police eventually revealed that Salsman had been placed in custody for three instances of attempted carjacking and felony hit-and-run as well as a DUI misdemeanor. It’s thanks to courageous Maddie and her quick thinking that his charge sheet wasn’t much more serious.
A keen horseback rider, Maddie explained, “If I can control a 1,500-pound animal, then I was sure going to try to take care of [Salsman].” And despite her daughter’s injury, Brandie was simply relieved to see her family safe. She told Fox News, “Bones will heal, but I cannot replace my girls.”