In fairy tales, beautiful women wait behind the scenes until brave, handsome men come to the rescue. But in real life, women across the world have been known to show a fearless streak when the circumstances call for it. Take Ann Timson, the 71-year-old "Supergran" who singlehandedly defused a jewelry-store heist, armed with only her oversize purse. Here’s a list of some of our favorite brave women, who saved themselves—and others—without giving it a second thought.
When Jared Lee Loughner allegedly opened fire at a Safeway in Tucson, Ariz., there wasn't much time to think. But a group of brave citizens stepped up and restrained the shooter, limiting the bloodshed and saving countless lives. That group included Patricia Maisch, a 61-year-old mother who managed to wrestle away a magazine from the shooter as he attempted to reload. "I turned and saw him running down the line of people on the chairs," she told ABC News. "He ran between me and the store. Someone hit him with a chair and he flinched a little. That's when I grabbed his left arm. Someone grabbed his right arm and we got him to the ground."
The petite, pregnant Kerryn Munro refused to be a single mom: when her husband was dragged off by a crocodile, she dived into a river and rescued him. The South African couple had been taking an after-dinner stroll when Munro's husband, a park ranger, dipped his toes in a nearby river. That was enough enticement for a hidden croc to grab Mr. Munro by the leg and drag him into the water. Munro, who was five months pregnant at the time, managed to drag him out and then run to a base camp for help.
Angela Pierce was headed to a birthday party when she offered backup to a Dayton, Ohio, cop during a routine traffic stop that went awry. The cop, Jonathan Seiter, had pulled over a man for a burned-out taillight, but the suspect started assaulting him, beating him and trying to take away his gun and Taser. Pierce called 911, then jumped into the melee, distracting the attacker enough for Seiter to restrain him. The police were thankful for her help, but they recommend that, for the most part, civilians steer clear of police-suspect altercations.
In a country of 1.33 billion people, you have to be pretty spectacular to stand out. Enter China's Wang Yuhui. In a feat of bravery, daring, and dexterity usually reserved for Hollywood movies, the policewoman and trained psychologist prevented a suicide by grabbing onto the jumper—after the woman had already leaped from a six-story building. Wang was able to grab the woman's hand and hold her, dangling in midair, until more officers helped pull the woman to safety. In recognition of her bravery, she was voted "the most beautiful policewoman in China" in an online poll.
When a disgruntled ex-employee walked into a Florida school-board meeting and opened fire, most people dived for cover. But Ginger Littleton took action, sneaking up behind the assailant and swinging her red purse at him. It wasn't enough to deter the gunman, but Littleton's bravery—caught on camera and posted online—inspired viewers around the world.
It's a sad fact that in New York City, something as common as the subway can be an unsafe place for women. In fact, many women report being flashed or groped while using public transportation. It can be humiliating and paralyzing, and there are few resources for victims of this all-too-common crime. For commuter Nicola Briggs, enough was enough. When a man approached her with his pants open, she wouldn't stand in silence. She called the man out in a crowded subway car and refused to leave his side until a policeman arrived. (Her attacker was a three-time offender and was sentenced to deportation back to Mexico.) Briggs became a viral sensation when her tirade was caught on video and posted to YouTube. While she seemed to do just fine on her own, maybe next time the guy with the camcorder spots a woman in distress, he'll stop playing Scorsese long enough to help her out.
When a fellow student was being stabbed on the campus of Husson University, five women intervened, saving the student from her attacker, Horst Wolk, 45, and restraining him until the police could arrive. One student, Jesse Hladik, had recently taken a self-defense course and knew the appropriate pressure points to force Wolk to drop the knife. Meanwhile, more women held him down, while others stood on the ready in case more help was needed. The victim, Wolk's wife, was treated and released; he was charged with attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, aggravated assault, and violating a protection order. He has pleaded not guilty.
A British woman was the lone passerby to intervene in a violent attack in broad daylight. When a gang of four men chased a victim down a city street in a dangerous, busy neighborhood, stomping the victim's body and head, an unidentified woman was the only one to come to the victim's aid. In doing so she dispersed the men, who were later arrested and jailed. The identity of the woman is still a mystery.
Officer Feris Jones just wanted to get her hair done when she stopped into a Brooklyn hair salon while off duty. While she was there, a 19-year-old man attempted to rob the store, and opened fire when Jones identified herself as a cop. Jones returned fire—the first time she used her gun since she had entered the force—with precision that would make Annie Oakley proud. She shot the gun out of the suspect's hand and shot the front door, causing it to lock. The suspect had to kick out the window of the salon to escape, leaving a trail of blood that investigators would follow to his hideout. Jones later identified the would-be thief in a police lineup, and was rewarded for her bravery with a promotion to detective.
In the 18 years that Jaycee Dugard was held against her will, she had several run-ins with adults who had the power to help her, including the parole officer of her captor, Phil Garrito. None followed up or took steps to help her. But two female employees at the University of California, Berkeley, acted on instinct and ended up saving Dugard and her daughters. Lisa Campbell, a campus security officer, first met Garrito when he applied for a permit to protest on campus, two young girls in tow. Sensing something was off, she asked that campus police officer Allison Jacobs sit in on their next meeting. Concerned, Jacobs called Garrito's parole officer, which led to the discovery of Dugard's abduction.
In 2002 a deranged gunman charged into a cozy New York City bar with three loaded guns, 153 rounds of ammunition, and a samurai sword. Chaos ensued almost immediately: while armed with a lighter, he sprayed patrons with kerosene and used some as human shields when the police arrived. Waitress Anne Hubbard was instructed to restrain patrons with garbage-bag ties, but she and fellow waitress Ann Margaret Gidley managed to keep their hands free and attacked the shooter from behind, trying to wrestle his gun away and pin him to the ground. In the process, Hubbard was shot, but police were able to enter the building and apprehend the shooter. Despite her injury, Hubbard returned to work at the same bar after she recovered. "If someone had said to me, 'Would you have jumped on a guy carrying five guns and a sword and kerosene with a lighter,' I would have said, 'Are you out of your mind?' " Hubbard told CBS News. "Like, I would never assume that I was that person. To all of us that person is someone bigger than you or me. But it isn't, is it?"
Karri Cormican (right), a waitress in San Francisco, was working on an otherwise slow night when she noticed a man slip some powder into his date's drink while she was in the bathroom. Horrified, Cormican alerted the bartender, Hannah Bridgeman-Oxley (left), and the two removed the doctored beer, claiming the keg was tainted. When the woman went out for a cigarette, Cormican followed with the drink—which had visible powder at the bottom—and told the woman what had happened. At the same time, Bridgeman-Oxley noticed that the man, Joseph Szlamnik, was at it again, trying to put a Xanax into his date's new drink. The women alerted the police, and Szlamnik was sentenced to one year in jail for a narcotics charge related to the incident.
Carlina White was only 19 days old when she was kidnapped, but she still managed to solve the mystery of her abduction 23 years later. Suspicious over her lack of a birth certificate, Social Security card, and other identifying documents—as well as a lack of resemblance to the woman who was supposed to be her mother—she began searching for the truth. White, who had been renamed Nejdra Nance, started doing research online, visiting the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It was there that she found a baby who had gone missing during her birth year—a baby who looked almost identical to her own daughter, now 6. The composite sketch of what that missing baby would look like as an adult persuaded White to call the center's hotline, which eventually reunited her with her real family. The CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told ABC News that this is the longest stranger-abduction case that's ever been solved.
This grandma took down six bad guys with a few sharp swings of her purse. The arthritic, sometimes wheelchair-bound Timson sprinted across a city street in Northampton, England, when she saw a man being beaten. Despite her shouts for the perps to knock off their bad behavior, they continued, while other pedestrians just watched from afar. So Timson took matters into her own hands: she began swinging her large black bag at the men, and even managed to knock one of them off a motorbike as he was trying to escape. The ensuing racket—during which she was threatened with a hammer—drew other bystanders, who finally rushed to her aid.