Ten-year-old girl cited for bravery
Tabytha Carroll has never flown on an airplane or been to Washington, D.C.
But the 10-year-old Orchard Mesa girl, who fought off her attacker last year by biting him on the nose and fleeing, hopped a plane Sunday to the East Coast to attend to a black tie ceremony partly in her honor.
“My mom told me not to talk to strangers, and my brother taught me to fight back,” a bright-eyed Tabytha said early Sunday morning at Grand Junction Regional Airport.
Tonight, Tabytha will wear a new pink-and-white striped dress as she is bestowed the Courage Award for bravery by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. John Walsh, host of the television show “America’s Most Wanted” will be attending the event.
Because of her actions, the center chose Tabytha out of numerous other children who were victims of crimes around the nation. She’ll share the spotlight with Elizabeth Smart of Utah, now 21, who was abducted when she was 14 and found nine months later. Smart receives the center’s Hope Award.
“We’re proud of her especially because we want kids to learn that they need to fight back and that’s what she did,” said Kate Porras, spokeswoman of the Grand Junction Police Department.
Porras said police Chief Bill Gardner submitted a letter recounting Tabytha’s bold escape and recommending her for the award.
Tabytha, her mother, Amanda Peterson, and Tabytha’s grandmother, B.J. Hill, will be feted at the gala. The center is paying for all costs associated with the trip.
Tabytha’s attacker, Michael Byerrum, then 41, grabbed the girl from where she was playing with her friends outside her Orchard Mesa apartment, placed her in the trunk of his car and drove to a wooded area. After stopping the car and taking her from the trunk, Byerrum tried to blindfold Tabytha and told her not to look at him or he would kill her. But Tabytha had other plans. She bit him hard on the nose and ran away. Police later found her unharmed in the area.
Using Tabytha’s description of her attacker, police quickly found the suspect, who was later identified as Byerrum. Police noted the blood on Byerrum’s nose from the bite mark, a scar which showed in his booking photo.
Byerrum, who was free on bond and already facing life in prison for other charges when he took Tabytha, is serving a minimum of 88 years in prison for the attack.
Prosecutors believe Byerrum planned to sexually assault Tabytha because items of a sexual nature were found in his trunk. Allegations from another affidavit indicate Byerrum had sexually molested another girl.
“I’m a hero ... I now know not to talk to strangers. He fooled me. He needs to stay in jail for the rest of his life,” Tabytha wrote in a statement that was read during her attacker’s sentencing hearing.
Early Sunday morning, Grand Junction Police Sgt. David Stassen drove Tabytha and her mom in his patrol car to the airport.
Stassen first found Tabytha, who had emerged from hiding after she saw a police car during the May 31 incident.
“He was honored to be able to do this,” Porras said.
She added, “It’s nice to have a happy ending to what could have been very tragic.”