With news of U.S. citizens thwarting terrorist attacks in France and an army vet saving lives at the recent campus shooting in Oregon, we're hearing of more and more American heroes coming to save the day. And now, what could have been a senseless tragedy in Illinois was stopped dead in its tracks by an intrepid army vet.
75-year-old James Vernon, a veteran of the U.S. army, is currently recovering from stab wounds after rescuing 16 children from an attack on Morton Public Library.
Vernon was leading a meeting of a chess club for a group of local children, ages 7 to 13, when an armed assailant burst into their conference room, threatening the children. “He actually ran into the room yelling, 'I'm going to kill some people!' He was holding two knives,” Vernon told the Pekin Daily News.
As frightened children hid under the table, Vernon first tried to take control by placating the man. “I tried to talk to him. I tried to settle him down. […] I asked what his problem was. He said his life sucks.” After the man showed no signs of stopping, Vernon was forced into action.
Vernon threw himself between the intruder and the conference room entrance, distracting the man and giving the children time to flee. “I gave them the cue to get the heck out of there, and, boy, they did that! Quick, like rabbits,” he told the Pekin paper.
Though he had never actually served in combat, Vernon deftly recalled knife-fight training he learned five decades ago. “I knew he was right-handed. He was whittling on his left arm,” recalled Vernon. “I knew which hand it was coming from.” When the intruder lashed out with his right hand, Vernon was able to block with his left, although he did get cut up in the melee.
“I grabbed him and threw... Somehow he wound up on a table” with the knife in his left hand pinned under his body, Vernon said. “I hit him on the (right) collarbone with my closed hand” until the intruder dropped that knife. Vernon, assisted by a library employee, kept the man pinned down until police and paramedics arrived.
Though Vernon is being rightfully hailed as a hero, he’s just trying to get things back to normal, like any true mensch. He told The Associated Press he’s “not going to let this stop the important activity”—teaching children chess. “We're not going to be intimidated or scared off.”
The chess club will begin again next Tuesday.
Photos by Robert Downen / Pekin Daily Times, via AP