A former Army vet is recovering from stab wounds after putting himself between 16 terrified children and a knife-wielding teen determined to kill at an Illinois public library this week.
“He actually ran into the room yelling, ‘I’m going to kill some people!’” James Vernon told the Pekin Daily Times Thursday.
Vernon, 75– a retired Caterpillar technology worker and Army vet—is recovering from surgery at his home in Morton, Illinois. He was leading a chess club meeting with local kids at the Morton library Tuesday afternoon when Dustin Brown, 19, burst into the room holding a knife in each hand and threatening the children.
“I failed my mission to kill everyone,” Brown told police Thursday, according to a prosecutor’s court affidavit that accompanied formal charges, including attempted murder.
Vernon described the two knives as “hunting types” with “fixed blades about 5 inches” long.
The 16 frightened children – ranging in age from 7 to 13– scurried under tables in the library’s conference room as Vernon stood in front of Brown.
Brown appeared angry as he focused his attention on the children. Vernon kept his cool and distracted Brown to give the kids a chance to escape.
“I tried to talk to him. I tried to settle him down,” Vernon told the Pekin Daily Times. “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.”
As Vernon spoke, he inched closer to Brown. “He backed away when I’d get closer.” With a few steps, Vernon put himself between Brown and the conference room door.
“I gave them the cue to get the heck out of there, and, boy, they did that! Quick, like rabbits,” Vernon said.
After all the children fled, the knife-fight training Vernon learned in the Army five decades ago kicked in. Brown slashed from the right towards Vernon, who blocked the blade with his left hand.
“I should have hit his wrist. That’s how you’re trained, but it’s been half a century,” Vernon recalled. “First rule of combat: Be fast and vigorous,” said Vernon, who never served in combat.
The veteran’s medium build was enough to overcome Brown. “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 Brown dropped that knife.
Vernon said he was “bleeding pretty good,” but managed to hold Brown until a library employee removed the knives and helped to keep Brown pinned until police and paramedics arrived.
At the time of the incident, Brown was free on bond while facing prosecution charges of possessing child pornography. He told police he’d been planning for two weeks to kill people and then himself, according to an affidavit.
Had he brought a gun instead, “It would’ve been a different story,” Vernon said.
Brown was ordered held on $800,000 bond pending a Nov. 5 court appearance. He’s charged with attempted murder, armed violence, aggravated battery to a person over age 60, and burglary for entering the library with intent to commit a crime.
Vernon won his “90 seconds of combat” with Brown, “but I felt like I lost the war,” he chuckled. His injuries include two cut arteries and a tendon on his left hand from blocking Brown’s knife swipe.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.