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Gracia Burnham

2009 Special Courage Award | National Crime Victims’ Service Awards

Gracia Burnham | Special Courage Award
Rose Hill, Kansas

For more than 15 years, Gracia Burnham and her husband, Martin, served as missionaries with the New Tribes Mission in the Philippines. In May 2001, the couple decided to spend a night at the Dos Palmas Island Resort in the Palawan area of the Philippines to celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary. They were awakened by armed gunmen affiliated with the terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). The Burnhams were among 20 hostages seized that morning and forced into a waiting motorboat. 

Over the next year and 11 days, the Burnhams endured unspeakable horrors as captives. The ASG continued to take additional hostages, brutally murdering many of them. The ASG and their hostages were pursued throughout the year by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), leading to more than a dozen harrowing military encounters that the Burnhams survived. 

Throughout their terrifying ordeal, they both exhibited remarkable strength and courage. The Burnhams served as support for each other and for their fellow hostages. On June 7, 2002, a group of AFP soldiers found their encampment and a firefight ensued in which Martin was killed. Gracia was shot in the leg, but survived and was rescued. 

Since that time, Gracia has dedicated herself to pursuing justice against the terrorists who held them captive. She met with FBI agents and prosecutors, providing the information they needed to support additional charges against her captors. Gracia also published "In the Presence of My Enemies," chronicling her year in captivity and shedding light on the brutality endured at the hands of the ASG. Her second book, "To Fly Again: Surviving the Tailspins of Life," shares the spiritual lessons Gracia learned during her captivity and in the aftermath of her husband’s death. 

In July 2004, Gracia returned to the Philippines to face a group of her former captors in court. Heavily guarded by Philippine military and police, Gracia calmly appeared in court and testified against those who held her hostage. Gracia also established the Martin and Gracia Burnham Foundation. Her testimony in court and the establishment of the Foundation have ensured that she has defeated the terrorists who changed her life forever. 

Gracia Burnham was nominated by Jeffrey A. Taylor, U.S. Attorney, District of Columbia.