Heroes in Loudoun County take on many forms, from a 5-year-old girl to a seasoned firefighter or law enforcement officer.
That was made clear at the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce’s Valor Awards today. This is the 31st year an awards ceremony has been held to recognize the county’s law enforcement officers, EMTs and firefighters, as well as ordinary citizens, for their courage in taking action in an emergency and, in many cases, saving lives.
The event, held at The National in Lansdowne, was the largest Valor Awards ceremony to date, with 134 awards given out.
The moment that prompted the loudest applause—and the more than 600 people in attendance to stand—was the presentation of one of the Meritorious Civilian Awards, given to 14-year-old Madison Mattison, for protecting her brothers and sisters in the midst of her father’s shooting rampage that ended in the death of her beloved step-father, Corey Mattison.
On Jan. 15, 2015, Madison saw her father, Minh Nguyen, run from her school parking lot to the home of her mother and step-father. Madison and her mother, Denise Mattison, quickly drove home and heard a gunshot as they pulled into the driveway. Madison ran inside the home and upstairs with her siblings. Madison heard Nguyen break through the front door and several deafening gunshots rang out. Madison quickly directed her siblings into the bathroom in an attempt to barricade them from danger, and then she dialed 911.
“I could hear her siblings and mother in the background crying… Madison remained calm and was able to answer all the questions I was asking,” said Communications Training Officer J. Weimer, who answered the call. “She acted very bravely.”
In that intense moment, the 14-year-old said in an interview with Loudoun Now that all she can remember is needing to get her young brothers and sisters out of harm’s way. “My priority was to keep my siblings safe, and that’s all I remember thinking about. The rest is kind of a blur,” she said.
Nguyen was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday, and Madison sat through the two-day sentencing hearing. “After a tough week, it’s nice to receive this honor,” she said.
Another young recipient of the Meritorious Civilian Award was 5-year-old Aubrey Perry, who was praised for her quick action to get medical attention for her father when he was experiencing a diabetic emergency.
Chamber President and CEO Tony Howard announced a new award, the Stu Plitman Community Service Award, named in honor of the founder and CEO of Loudoun First Responders. This recognition went to Leesburg Police officers Wael Abilmona and Kristine Rzewnicki for going beyond their job description to befriend and help a lonely, elderly resident.
This particular resident, who was not named at the awards ceremony, was once calling the police department as many as 75 times a month. Abilmona and Rzewnicki developed a schedule so that one of them could stop by her home once a day. Their visits provided not only a chance to check on her physical and mental health, but also give her a sense of purpose and well-being.
In a manner of months, her calls to the department dropped to two to three per month. “The citizen’s quality is much better and the officers’ visits are now characterized as ‘happy visits’ and no longer focused on the citizen’s paranoia, distress and fears,” the description of the award stated.
Other awards recognized Loudoun County Sheriff’s deputies for fending off a drunk and angry mob and protecting a prisoner while they were at it; as well as firefighters for acting quick to prevent fire from one home engulfed in flames from spreading to several other homes in Round Hill.
Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10) credited the Loudoun chamber for putting a spotlight on the stories of first-responders who take lifesaving actions every day.
“These are the stories you don’t always hear about in the news,” she said, noting that many of the first-responders are too humble to share their heroism publically. “This is a chance for everyone to know what they do to save lives. It’s a chance for them to get well-deserved recognition.”