ANTIOCH -- Four months after her intuition helped police quickly find an abducted 7-year-old girl, Roxanna Ramirez Del Rio is still taken aback by the accolades she receives. After all, she was just doing her job.

That showed when she received a standing ovation from Antioch law enforcement officers and their families during the department's annual ceremony Thursday.

"It was pretty emotional, just to think about changing someone's life," said Ramirez, of Oakley, upon receiving a Citizen Service Award from the Antioch Police Department. She had never heard how often abductions turn tragic.

"I guess I kind of didn't realize how important it was."

But Antioch police did.

Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando, left, gives a hug to Roxanna Ramirez Del Rio, right, after she received  a citizen service citation for her role in
Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando, left, gives a hug to Roxanna Ramirez Del Rio, right, after she received a citizen service citation for her role in helping find a seven year old Antioch girl that was kidnapped January 3, 2014 in front of her home in Antioch, Calif., on Thursday, May 15, 2014. The weird feeling Del Rio got about a man in the store she worked in that morning, made her write down his license plate and car model which figured prominently in the rescue of the girl that night. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

Her actions -- including jotting down a thorough description of a man that she noticed acting peculiar during her shift at the Pittsburg Target store on the morning of Jan. 3 -- saved the girl's life, Chief Allan Cantando said.

Cantando cited a study that in 76 percent of child-abduction murders, the victim was killed within three hours of the reported abduction, and 89 percent within 24 hours.

"The level of police skills this young lady has turned a very tragic incident into a positive outcome," said Cantando, with Ramirez standing beside him.

The event shined a spotlight on police work of the present, while recognizing those from the past. Officer James Colley was named Antioch Officer of the Year by his peers, and Acting Capt. Diane Aguinaga and Sgt. Tarra Nissen received Distinguished Service Awards.


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The ceremony also recognized the careers of 15 sworn officers and dispatchers who retired in the past year, some of whom had been with the department for more than 25 years.

Hailey Hartrick, a Park Middle School eighth-grader, received a Citizen Service Award for her efforts to raise about $12,000 for police canine vests.

Last but not least to be honored was Ramirez.

Cantando retold the story of that January day, starting with calls he received in the early evening about the abduction, which triggered a statewide Amber Alert. Detailing how doggedly detectives worked, he jumped ahead to police receiving a call from Ramirez.

That morning, Ramirez observed David Douglas in the store with a backpack, which grabbed her attention.

The loss-prevention specialist followed him for a while, later retreating to a surveillance room, where she watched Douglas by camera acting strangely in the parking lot.

She took down information from his gold Toyota Camry -- just in case.

She went home after her shift, going to bed after feeling ill. Girlfriend Antonia Grijalva checked Facebook and mentioned the Amber Alert -- including giving a car and suspect description.

"Roxanna put two and two together," Grijalva, 28, said Thursday. "I urged her that she had to check and call."

Grijalva paused and gestured toward her sister and Ramirez's sister standing next to them. "That could have been my little sister, or her little sister."

Ramirez phoned police before 10 p.m. with the information from a notebook she always carries. Police said the license plate number was used to identify Douglas, who they learned frequented the Antioch Marina. He was arrested there shortly after.

Douglas has pleaded not guilty to six felony charges, including three counts of attempted kidnapping for sexual purpose, that could land him in prison for life without parole if convicted.

Since that day, Ramirez says she finds herself being even more observant and willing to call police, and she urges others to do the same.

"If something doesn't seem right, speak up. Don't keep it to yourself."

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.