ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A Rochester man was awarded the Carnegie Medal which is a recognition given to those who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree in saving or attempting to save the lives of others. 

32-year-old Darnell Wilson put his life on the line three years ago, when he came to the rescue of a well-known, local business owner during an attempted robbery. 

The incident took place on the night of December 23, 2019, when Evangela “Van” Stanley was getting ready to close her restaurant, People’s Choice Kitchen, on Brooks Avenue.

“I actually sold out a little early, so a gentleman came to my door, he was hungry, so I went in, made him a plate of food, and as I was exiting the door to hand him the food,” Van recalled. “A few minutes later, another guy was coming from the opposite direction and he was yelling at me, and I’m like, ‘I can’t make out what you’re saying.”

Stanley said the man had his sweatshirt pulled tight around his face and he started running towards her. She fled towards the back of her restaurant, calling for help from her friend Darnell, who had been hanging out at the store that day. 

“I’m like, ‘What’s going on? This is not happening,’ and I really was like, ‘there’s a robbery going on right now,’” Stanley said. “As I ran inside, Darnell was running towards my voice, and I was running to get away from danger.”

Stanley went to hide in the basement to call 911, while Wilson ran towards the suspect. He said at that moment, his instincts just took over.

“I ran towards the assailant and just went to work,” Wilson said. “I saw him in the dining room and fought the guy towards the front door, and then he pulled out a gun and he let off two shots, and at that point, I took him through the window, took the gun from him, and then me and the cook guy fought him off.”

Wilson said he wasn’t thinking too much about his own safety in the moment until he heard those gunshots.

“Then I thought of my son and I was like, ‘Oh no, not tonight. I am not going down tonight,’” Wilson said. “It took everything in me to fight the assailant off.”

After a few minutes of a scuffle, the suspect fled. He left Wilson with a few lacerations, but Stanley with a grateful heart. She now calls Wilson, who she has known for over a decade, her “guardian angel.”

“It means the world to me because Darnell risked it all, he put his life on the line for me. He didn’t think twice about jumping into action. There’s not many people that would do that,” Stanley said. “If I had a million dollars, I’d give it to him.”

For his actions that night, Wilson was awarded the Carnegie Medal, one of North America’s highest civilian honors for heroism. He is one of 16 people who received the recognition this year. 

“It honestly hasn’t even hit me yet, but I feel truly honored. I really do,” Wilson said. “I was happy to be here that night. I love Van very much.”

According to the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission website, more than 10,000 medals have been awarded to date and the recipients of the award have been selected from more than 100,000 nominees. About 20 percent of the Medals are awarded posthumously.

Wilson said while he wasn’t expecting the award, he hopes his story helps the community understand that violence is never the answer.

“We need to come together and not destroy each other, especially because she’s (Van) giving out free food, and helping out the community a lot, so this isn’t a place that should be targeted. No place should be targeted, but this definitely shouldn’t be a place to be targeted,” he said.

Stanley said Wilson is currently looking for employment and she hopes this story of his bravery shines a light on what a good employee and coworker he’d be. 

As for the gunman, he was later arrested after fleeing the scene and pleaded guilty in court to attempted robbery. He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 29 and could face up to 8 years in prison.