A Virginia girl is being hailed a hero after she saved herself and her younger sister from an alleged attempted carjacking Saturday evening.
Twelve-year-old Maddie Weiler and her little sister Mollie, 7, were on their way to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg with their mother when they witnessed a car crash ahead of them. Their mother, Brandie Weiler, pulled over and got out of her car to help the victims, calling 911 as she approached the vehicles. She told her girls to stay in the car.
That’s when Paul Salsman, the man who allegedly caused the crash, headed towards her van on foot, Weiler tells PEOPLE.
“I saw him go towards the van,” Weiler says. “And I could not get to that van fast enough.”
Weiler alleges Salsman unlocked the door by reaching into an open window and got inside the car. Immediately, Maddie started hitting him.
“I was steady beating him, beating his hand, his shoulder, his head, everything I could,” Maddie tells PEOPLE.
Meanwhile, Maddie heard her younger sister Mollie screaming, she says. When Maddie saw Salsman allegedly reach for the ignition, she blocked his hand. Then Maddie, who had experience with all-terrain vehicles, managed to maneuver the gearshift into drive so that it would jam if Salsman turned the ignition. The move stalled Salsman.
During this time, Mollie escaped the vehicle and ran away, yelling for help. But Maddie stayed in the car and continued to hit Salsman until she was sure her sister was safe.
“I have been taught if somebody tries to kidnap you, you hit them with all you got and nothing stops you,” Maddie says.
“When you’re in that situation, you just go. I would think most people would freeze but I was not about to leave my sister,” she adds.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
By this point, Weiler had gotten to the outside the vehicle. She took the keys from Salsman, who then fled the vehicle, she alleges.
Salsman then allegedly tried to carjack another car but failed, and then ran into the woods.
Police arrived soon after and arrested Salsman on charges of three counts of felony carjacking, felony hit and run, and driving under the influence of drugs. (James City County police tell PEOPLE Salsman attempted to carjack two other cars before they arrived.)
Steven Weiler, Maddie and Mollie’s father, tells PEOPLE the alleged incident left the girls shaken.
“I always knew she was something,” Steven Weiler says of Maddie. “She’s a different kid, she showed strength the other day. Strength I never knew she had, and I’ve been completely amazed.”
Brandie Weiler believes Maddie’s quick thinking comes in part from growing up with firefighters and police officers in the family. Steven Weiler says the girls have been taught the importance of self-reliance from an early age.
Since receiving so much praise, Maddie, who describers herself as a “normal every day kid,” says she’s more focused on her family than the headlines. Steven Weiler says the incident has brought the girls together.
“ realizing that she has a lot more strength than she knew she had,” Steven Weiler says. “So kind of a blessing.”
Salsman is currently behind bars with no bond at Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail. He is set to appear in court on May 2 and has not yet entered a plea. He has not been appointed an attorney, jail officials confirm.