‘Hilo Hero’ Recounts Rescue of 15-Year-Old Girl From Abductor
September 20, 2022, 6:53 AM HST
* Updated October 10, 2:27 AM
Musician Bridge Hartman wasn’t even supposed to work Saturday, his normal day off as a host at Café Pesto in downtown Hilo on the Big Island. But the 20-something — who came to work that day to cover a shift for another employee — left as the “Hilo Hero.”
He rescued a 15-year-old girl who was in such imminent danger that for the first time in 17 years the state of Hawai’i issued a MAILE AMBER Alert.
For about 18 hours, a search and manhunt had been underway by the Hawai‘i Police Department, the FBI and a small army of volunteers for the girl and the 52-year-old man who reportedly abducted her at knifepoint — and left her teenage boyfriend tied up at a beach at ‘Anaeho‘omalu Bay in Waikōloa.
Hartman was at the host station when the middle-aged man and girl walked into Café Pesto, 70 miles away from the site of the abduction.
“I’m just shocked that I was talking about [the AMBER Alerts] that morning and then somehow it crossed my path,” Hartman told the Big Island Now on Monday. “Somehow, I was able to react in the right way, I guess.”
According to the girl’s mother, she convinced the man to take her to Café Pesto to get something to eat. He told her to stay in the car, but she got out and accompanied him into the hallway of the S. Hata Building on Kamehameha Avenue.
It was shortly after the cafe opened at 11 a.m., when the pair arrived at the restaurant’s host station. Hartman told the man he could seat the two inside the restaurant, but the man said he needed a minute.
Hartman said he couldn’t really make out the man’s image when the pair came in because of the sun shining in his eyes and was struck by the surgical mask the girl was wearing. She also was very quiet. But he went about his work, not thinking much of the situation.
“The next thing I see is them struggling right at the sidewalk, like at the entrance of our hallway,” Hartman said.
At first, he thought it was just a scuffle between a boyfriend and his girlfriend. But then it all clicked. He recognized the dark-haired teenager from the two AMBER Alerts.
Hartman was at a show Friday night with friends when the first AMBER Alert came through. At first, he thought it might have been a tsunami alert. When he realized it was the abduction of a girl, he said it was kind of spooky, but it didn’t really sink in how bad the situation was until Saturday morning, after two more AMBER Alerts had been issued.
Just hours after the second AMBER Alert, he found himself chasing the kidnapper, who was still with the teenager on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant with a few tourists around them. They were heading in the direction of the Mamo Street intersection.
“I just ran after them. It wasn’t a decision on my part,” Hartman said. “It was a reaction.”
Hartman yelled for them to stop.
“Everyone kind of froze in that moment,” he said. “In that amount of time, I was able to just grab her.”
The next thing he remembers is being inside the restaurant’s entrance and telling his manager, Mario Castillo: “This is her. This is her.”
Castillo told him to take the girl to the office in the back of the restaurant and lock the door. Hartman said he didn’t even know at the time what the man did or what happened to her. He just knew the girl was the one in danger on the Amber Alert.
As he rescued the girl, the kidnapper ran away.
Castillo said Saturday that after Hartman got the girl to safety he told everybody to: “Get that guy.”
People chased after the man, but were unable to corral him. They were able to get the license plate number of the vehicle he drove away in, and reported it to police.
“He did a really good job,” Castillo told Big Island Now on Saturday about his employee.
Hartman said the police arrived at the restaurant almost immediately after they were called and began asking questions. He kept working while the teenager stayed in the office with a family friend for about an hour.
The girl was with police when her family arrived from the other side of the island.
Hartman left work early that afternoon, about two hours after the emotional experience unfolded.
A friend asked him if he needed anything later Saturday afternoon and Hartman replied: “I need to go to the beach and just like jump in the water and stuff.”
He was still shaken knowing the kidnapper was still on the run and his mom was home alone. But shortly after 4 p.m., police announced that Duncan Kealoha Mahi was in custody. (On Monday, Mahi was charged with kidnapping, first-degree terroristic threatening, first-degree robbery, methamphetamine trafficking and first-degree sex assault).
“I felt like everyone was in danger until he was captured,” Hartman said. “Him being captured was a sigh of relief, but people knew that it happened within 30 minutes and people knew my face and my name within the same amount of time. So it was really crazy. It was just really crazy to see the reaction and response from everyone only because I, myself, didn’t even realize what had happened.”
Hartman said he is proud to have played a part in reuniting the 15-year-old with her family and represent his hometown. He has been humbled by the community’s positive response to his actions. A customer outside the restaurant Monday overheard Big Island Now interviewing Hartman and proclaimed, “He’s our hero.”
But Hartman said he doesn’t feel like a hero.
“I feel like I helped a girl who needed help,” he said, adding that others helped, too. “I feel like I was just responding to someone who was in need, and I don’t think my actions were heroic. I just feel like they were necessary.”
All he wrote on his Facebook page about the incident was: “Iʻm just happy sheʻs home safe.”
He had a similar message Monday for the teenager and her family: “I’m just so, so happy for you.”
Hartman added if it was his niece, cousin, sister or friend in need, he hopes someone would step up and help in the same way.
Acting Police Chief Kenneth Bugado said Monday that the police department is truly grateful for Hartman’s actions.
“Thankfully, Bridge was aware of the AMBER Alert that had been activated, realized the situation that was happening and took immediate action,” Bugado said in a statement to Big Island Now via email. “Bridge is commended for his quick thinking and bravery in rescuing [the teenager]. This is truly an example of the aloha spirit and how the community should look out for and take care of one another.”