75 year-old Army vet, James Vernon, saved a the lives of 16 terrified children when he used his knife-fighting skills to ward off a teen trying to murder them in the Morton, IL public library.
“He actually ran into the room yelling, I’m going to kill some people,” Vernon told Pekin Daily Times.
“I tried to talk to him. I tried to settle him down,” he said. “I didn’t, but I did deflect his attention” from the kids “and calmed him a bit. I asked him if he was from Morton, did he go to high school. I asked what his problem was. He said his life sucks. That’s a quote.”
The disgruntled teen, Dustin Brown, said he specifically wanted to kill children that day. If he brought a gun in instead of his hunting knives, “It would have been a different story,” said Vernon.
As the 19-year-old entered the room ready to attack, the retired chess club teacher gave the children a route of escape and quickly reverted to the knife-fighting training he remembered from his Army days 50 years ago.
“First rule of combat: Be fast and vigorous,” said Vernon who instinctually reverted to the combat-training that he had been given but never actually used before this moment. “I should have hit his wrist. That’s how you’re trained, but it’s been half a century,” he recalled.
His medium-build was enough to overcome Brown. Though he was “bleeding pretty good” he managed to keep Brown pinned down until an employee at the library was able to take the knives out of his hands. The employee helped Vernon keep Brown contained until police and paramedics arrived.
“I failed my mission to kill everyone,” Brown said to the police according to a court affidavit. He admitted he’d been plotting to kill the kids and then himself for 2 weeks.
According to Vernon, he won the “90 seconds of combat” but “I felt like I lost the war,” as Brown sliced through 2 of his arteries and a tendon when Vernon went to block the knife swipe with his left hand.
But for him, a little bloodshed was a small price to pay to save so many precious lives. For a fifty year gap in his hero training, this vet fought like a pro.
And the children’s parents couldn’t be more grateful for the courageous man willing to risk his own life to save their little ones.