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Canaan Bower, a hulking 16-year-old wrestler, is accustomed to neutralizing his opponents in the ring.
Last week, however, the high school athlete found himself facing off with an alleged child abductor, who he pinned to the ground in the aisles of a New Mexico gas station, law enforcement said.
Bower outmuscled suspected kidnapper Daniel Beltran Arroyo, 21, during an alleged freak abduction attempt at a rest stop in the border city of Las Cruces on March 25.
“I grabbed him from behind and I pulled him back into the open area of the store, [flipped] him onto his back and held him there,” Bower told Oxygen.com over FaceTime on Monday. “That’s how I pin everyone else in a real match or tournament. That’s just what I did to him.”
The dramatic showdown was captured on video by surveillance cameras at Chucky’s Food Mart, whose management released the dramatic footage to Oxygen.com.
Seconds before Bower intervened, the suspect, clad in jeans and a grey Adidas hoodie, appeared to throttle a mother of three children. Momentarily stunned, the woman swiftly regained her balance, collected her kids, and fled inside. One customer wearing a red hat attempted to hold the store’s doors shut. But the suspect, hot on the woman’s heels, overpowered him, beat him, and eventually entered the store.
Bower was refueling his Toyota pickup truck at a neighboring service station when he first heard the commotion and glanced across the street.
“She kept screaming and I could tell after looking that she was trying to avoid this guy, trying to get away,” Bower recalled. “He was going through people like crazy.”
The 16-year-old peeled across the street in his Toyota and tore inside the blood-spattered entrance of the corner store where he found the suspect trying to kick down the office door, behind which the woman and her children had barricaded themselves.
“I was a little worried that he had a knife or a gun because there was so much blood,” he said.
But within seconds, the mammoth teen wrestler coiled his arms around the suspected kidnapper’s neck.
“As soon as he got on his back, I started squeezing his head a little bit, and he kind of gave up,” Bower described.
As Bower perched atop the suspect, surveillance footage showed an alarmed store clerk smacking the alleged kidnapper with a yellow janitorial sign. For about four minutes, Bower subdued the suspect until a Doña Ana sheriff’s deputy bolted into the store and slapped handcuffs on him.
“He threw the guy down on the ground and pinned him to the ground until the police came,” Aimee Bronson, 41, a store clerk who witnessed the ordeal, told Oxygen.com.
Arroyo was booked and charged with kidnapping, two counts of child abuse, and a flurry of assault and battery charges, according to jail records.
Bronson, who was punched several times in the berserk attack, sustained minor bruising on her chest and arms. She claimed the suspect was “laughing hysterically” and screaming, "Give me those f’ing kids” as he hurled punches at store staff and customers.
“He was beating on everybody — he seemed super human,” she said. “All he wanted was those kids.”
Bower undoubtedly thwarted the abduction attempt, the cashier said.
“It wasn’t for that young man, it would have been a lot different because we couldn’t stop him,” Bronson added. “It was so scary.”
Law enforcement also dubbed the teenage wrestler a hero.
“It was very heroic,” Sgt. Robyn Gojkovich of the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office told Oxygen.com. “Not many adults would have done what he did.”
Authorities are puzzled as to what triggered the disturbing skirmish. Arroyo has no prior relation to the mother and children he allegedly targeted, they said.
“Who knows what his motive was,” Gojkovich added. “We don’t really know what his deal was, other than he was very persistent in trying to take the two little kids from the mom.”
He has since refused to cooperate with investigators.
Arroyo, who is from Phoenix, Arizona, appeared to have been drifting through Las Cruces the morning of the attack. Detectives said he was lingering at the Greyhound station near Chucky’s Food Mart when the mother and her three children disembarked a nearby bus.
The victim, whose name has been withheld to protect her identity, was waiting for an Uber with her kids when she first noticed Arroyo spying on them.
“She got off the bus and he kept staring at her, and made her feel really uncomfortable,” Gojkovich explained.
The man then allegedly locked his eyes on the mother while she changed her two-year-old’s diaper. Creeped out by the “weird stare,” she reported Arroyo to a store clerk, who asked the man to leave, the affidavit added. Instead, Arroyo allegedly latched onto the woman’s oldest child and began shrieking at her.
The mother kicked the suspect, who swung back, striking her on the forehead, investigators said. She fell backward, landing on her young son. Flanked by several bystanders, she safely retreated into the convenience store until Bower managed to intervene. Her children, who are between the ages of 1 and 9, were unharmed.
Gojkovich said such incidents are rare in Las Cruces, a small desert city, about 55 miles from north of the Mexican border.
“It’s very shocking for something like that to happen here,” she explained.
Bower, a naturally gifted athlete who’s built like a brick wall, his family said, is known for being a gentle giant with a “big heart.”
“He’s always been big and strong since he was in diapers — just a very solid kid,” his father, Troy Bower, 42, told Oxygen.com.
Bower, who loves football, baseball, and dirt biking, stands at a towering 6’3 and weighs 280 pounds. He only became enamored with wrestling in 2018, his father said.
“He had never been exposed to wrestling at all, he didn’t know anything about it — he was sort of a natural,” Bill Hawkins, Bower’s wrestling coach, told Oxygen.com.
In just over a year, however, the 16-year-old has established himself as one of New Mexico’s premier high school heavyweight wrestlers. He clinched the district title earlier this year and his coach expects him to finish top-five in the state next year.
The eleventh grader, who attends Alma d' Arte Charter High School, wants to study mechanical engineering, and also hopes to pursue wrestling at the varsity level.
Video of the 16-year-old wrestler's clash with an alleged child abductor has indeed gone viral — and drawn praise from a number of sports celebrities and professional athletes.
“Hey Canaan Bower u are AWESOME!!!” UFC President Dana White wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Bower’s parents, still basking in the moment this week, were simply relieved their son — and the mother and children he protected — were unharmed in the gas station rumble.
“I think my son definitely saved some lives that day,” his father, Troy explained. “I’m very proud and very thankful he was there. I’m just happy it had the ending that it had.”
Arroyo is scheduled to appear at a Doña Ana County courthouse on April 9, court documents show. He’s currently being held without bond and hasn’t retained legal counsel. The accused kidnapper was charged with drunk driving in Phoenix earlier this month, according to municipal court records obtained by Oxygen.com.
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