Six years ago, then 54-year-old Paul Traub survived a horrific attack in his Burnsville home at the hands of a pair of assailants. He still carries vivid memories of the ordeal, as well as a knife tip embedded in his skull.
Now he is being honored for the bravery he showed that night – and for his courage since then.
Traub was in Washington, D.C., this week to pick up the "Special Courage Award," bestowed by the Justice Department's Office for Victims of Crime on Wednesday. (Gallery of this year's winners here.)
The award recognizes recipients for "extraordinary bravery in the aftermath of a crime or courageous act on behalf of a victim or potential victim."
Traub had been asleep on the night of May 11, 2008, when two intruders bent on robbery entered his house through an open garage door – a "completely random crime," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, who nominated Traub for the award.
Traub awoke, and quickly realized there were people in his home when he saw lights moving. The attack came swiftly – 17 stab wounds to Traub's back, two to the head and one to the cheek. It was "one of the most brutal attacks in the county's history," Backstrom says.
One of the assailants knelt beside him and said, "I hope you know you are going to die, because I just stabbed you in the head," Traub says in a description of the attack in an episode of the Lifetime TV show "I Survived."
"I have no idea why this was so violent," Traub says in a Justice Department video that tells his story. "I've asked myself that a few times, and I have no answer for it."
The two young attackers left Traub to die, disabling smoke detectors, setting Traub's unit in his four-plex building ablaze and turning on the gas.
Remarkably, a bloodied Traub got to his feet, escaped though a wall of flames – and then awoke his neighbors in the the other units.
"He saved the rest of us, because if he wouldn't have gotten out, this could be a lot worse," neighbor Wanda Trousil said.
Traub promptly provided information to investigating officers, which led to arrests.
"It shocked me, the amount of trauma that he had suffered, that he was able to provide us with valuable information that helped us in the case immediately," Burnsville Police Sgt. Jeremiah Mahler said.
In 2011, two men, Shaquen Perril Whitfield, then 22, and Irvin Scott Cook, then 21, were convicted. Traub testified at the trial.
Traub has become an outspoken advocate for victims and for preserving programs nationwide that help victims, the Justice Department says.
Traub hopes his attackers will be rehabilitated in prison, and he remains deeply grateful to the people who helped him survive that night and in the years since, KARE 11 reports.
"In just a few short hours, I experienced the very worst that the world had to offer and the very best that the world had to offer with all the nurses, doctors and police and all of the people that were taking care of me," Traub told KARE. "That's the part that's emotional to me, all the help that people gave me."