San Diego

Brave Men and Women Honored at Citizens of Courage Downtown

If a hero was sitting in the room with you, would you know it? The Citizens of Courage Awards in downtown San Diego honors the brave in the community.

A high school coach whose actions saved him and a student from a kidnapping attempt was honored Tuesday at the Citizens of Courage Awards in downtown San Diego. 

Dylan Graham was working at St. Augustine High School in December 2015 when he and his 16-year-old student were at batting practice at Hickman Field in Kearny Mesa.

A stranger approached them inside the batting cage, kidnapped them at gunpoint and forced them into a car. As the man began driving toward Ramona, Graham said he began to plan his next move.

"It was a long car ride so I had a while to think about my strategy for getting out of there," said Graham. 

The kidnapper told Graham he was taking them to the woods where a group of people were waiting for them. 

“When he wasn’t really paying attention I jumped in the back seat and got my hands around his wrists,” said Graham. “I started fighting for the gun and three shots went off.”

Graham’s student was able to jump out of the car and they both made it out of the terrifying situation safely.

The coach still keeps in touch with his former student. He said it feels odd to be called a hero because he's just grateful to be alive.

NBC 7’s Candice Nguyen reports on the carjacking and kidnapping Tuesday in San Diego.

Although you wouldn't recognize the people honored Tuesday as they walked down the street, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, said Graham and several others acted with extreme valor during terrifying situations. 

In March 2018, Fernando Melendez was in a Starbucks in Carlsbad when a victim ran in bleeding from the chest. 

Melendez, a U.S. Marine veteran, teamed up with a stranger, Mark Lopez, to help the stabbing victim. 

"I asked the employees for towels to stop the bleeding," said Lopez, who has a background as an army medic. 

That's when Melendez looked up to find a man with a crossbow running towards him. 

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing at first," said Melendez. "I grabbed it from him and pulled it towards the floor. It fired and luckily no one was hurt." 

Donna Cooper was victimized by an unlicensed dentist and had injuries that required repeated corrective surgeries. 

She worked with investigators, providing key testimony during the trial. 

Dylan and Marisa Mabrito, a mother and son duo, helped an investigation by providing DNA to investigators to solve a cold case homicide. 

“We figured that it was the right thing to do to help out,” said Marisa.

After Jodine Serrin was killed in her home in 2007 the case went cold. Investigators had DNA but there were no matches to it in their database. 

Snapshot DNA Phenotyping
This is the Snapshot DNA Phenotyping prediction of what the person of interest in the cold case killing may have looked like in 2007.

They looked up DNA from databases like 23 and Me and Ancestry.com and found a match.

Dylan's father and Marisa's husband was the suspect whose DNA matched the evidence found at the crime. Dylan and Marisa had no idea their loved one was involved in such a horrendous act. 

 “You can’t really explain how it feels when you realize it’s your dad,” added Dylan.

NBC 7's Gaby Rodriguez explains how technological advances and a little bit of luck led to the identification of a suspect in an 11-year-old murder.

All of the honorees were thanked by Stephan. Videos with interviews of the recipients were played for the large audience at the luncheon. 

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