JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 9-year-old girl was the first child recipient of the Justice Coalition's award for Outstanding Bravery and Courage after she took steps to save her own life during a brutal attack at a Southside Best Buy in August.
Action News has decided not to release the girl's name or show her face to protect her identity.
"Ella" received the surprise award at a dinner on Thursday, where she received a standing ovation upon her introduction by Justice Coalition Executive Director Ann Dugger.
Police say 29-year-old James Tadros dragged Ella into the store's bathroom, where he kicked, punched and covered her head with a bag. He then attempted to push her head into the toilet.
Ella continued to kick to free herself, and scream until an employee heard her cries for help.
"She really saved her own life that night," said Sheriff John Rutherford of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Rutherford was joined by Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler and Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper to present Ella with the award.
Rutherford says Ella did everything right.
"You kick, you scream, you bite, you gouge, you do whatever you've got to do to keep up. Even though it may look like you're losing the battle, you continue to holler and scream because maybe someone will hear you."
It's a sensitive topic that he hopes parents aren't afraid to share with their kids.
"You have to be age appropriate, but there are bad things that happen to children in this world, and they need to be prepared to defend themselves."
Dugger said Ella is like many other 9-year-olds: outgoing, friendly and always helpful, even to strangers.
"She wants to assist in any way. That's in the makeup of who she is, but we have to be very careful as to not help the wrong person."
Dugger said Ella now wants to help other kids by sharing her unlikely story of survival.
"She didn't only save her life, she possibly saved the lives of many other children."
Ella's family joined her at the dinner, but did not speak in an effort to protect their privacy.
She was also given an all-expense paid family vacation to Disney World. Her nickname, "Ella" comes from her favorite Disney princess, Cinderella.
Before walking off stage, Ella shared a message of appreciation.
"Thank you, everybody!"
Eight other local heroes were also honored Thursday including six nominees from each of the six Northeast Florida counties for the Sheriff's Choice Extraordinary Citizen Award, as well as Pastor Steve Dobbs for the Extraordinary Citizen Award, and Hardage-Giddens Funeral Homes for the Extraordinary Business Leader Award.