Tampa police award young girl who shielded her little brother during home burglary

Tampa police recognize an 11-year-old girl's bravery and quick thinking during a break-in.
Published October 5 2015
Updated October 6 2015

TAMPA

When 11-year-old Annabelle Sanders was asked, in front of all her sixth-grade classmates, if she thought her 911 call made her a hero, she responded quietly and candidly. "Kinda," she said with a shrug.

It had been a month since a burglar bashed through a window of her South Tampa house while she and her little brother, Brody, waited for their mom to return from Publix. She snatched up Brody and barricaded the two of them in a bathroom, dictating calmly to a 911 dispatcher what she could hear beyond the door.

On Monday morning, TV cameras and men with shiny badges invaded Annabelle's first-period classroom at Coleman Middle School to reward the girl's bravery and quick thinking, which police said kept her and her little brother safe and led to an immediate arrest.

"Congratulations and thank you," Tampa police chief Eric Ward said as he handed Annabelle a large plaque and dark blue Tampa Police Department coffee mug.

"You can put hot cocoa in here," he said, smiling.

As an added surprise, Nicolas Ware, the dispatcher on Annabelle's 911 call, came to meet her. Ware told the room he was amazed by Annabelle's calm demeanor during the call, especially for an 11-year-old.

"A lot of times, when we get 911 calls, they're the exact opposite," Ware said.

But Annabelle was able to describe the sound of breaking glass, of pounding on the door and rummaging in the kitchen and footsteps passing by the bathroom. She gave her address, where her mom was, her age and that of Brody, who is 7.

Annabelle's mom, Jill Sanders, joked that her daughter was far more calm than she was.

"I was the crazy one," Sanders said.

The night of the break-in, Aug. 28, was Sanders' 43rd birthday. The family was enjoying a relaxing night at home after a chaotic first week of school. They'd made spaghetti, the children had wrapped up gifts. But they needed lemonade for dinner, so Sanders ran down the road and left her kids at home.

Annabelle was watching the Disney channel and Brody was playing video games when they heard the door knob rattle. Then there was banging, and Annabelle said she knew something wasn't right. She grabbed the home phone and her brother and rushed into the bathroom. First she called her mom.

Sanders had just pulled into the Publix on Gandy Boulevard. On the other end was a panicked Annabelle. Sanders could hear breaking glass.

In a flurry of confusion, Annabelle hung up to call 911. So did Sanders.

As she sped home in her white minivan, Sanders said she pondered running a stoplight or two. When she pulled up to their house on Manhattan Avenue, the police were already there. A suspect had been arrested, and Annabelle and Brody were out of the home and safe.

"As a young girl, she just showed tremendous strength," Sanders said. "She used her common sense to do everything right. I couldn't be more proud."

Tampa police found Andre Levon Russell, 18, at a nearby business. He was arrested on multiple counts of burglary.

Detectives found Brody's iPad and charger abandoned in the back yard.

Sanders said she and her kids are still adjusting post-burglary. She remains hesitant to leave Annabelle and Brody alone, even just to take a quick run.

As for Annabelle, she's just ready for this hero stuff to be over.

"I just assumed you're supposed to call 911 when someone breaks into your home," she said.

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

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