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75-year-old chess teacher injured saving children from knife attack

By Marilyn Malara
75-year-old chess teacher injured saving children from knife attack
James Vernon, a retired Caterpillar employee and public library chess club teacher, saved a classroom of children from an armed 19-year-old man who aimed to "kill some people." Photo by CINews

MORTON, Ill., Oct. 17 (UPI) -- The Illinois man who acted as a human shield against a public library attacker says he wouldn't consider himself a hero despite potentially saving over 16 children.

After confronting armed 19-year-old Dustin Brown and providing an opportunity for his chess students to escape a private classroom Monday, 75-year-old James Vernon underwent surgery on his left hand to repair a cut tendon and severed arteries.

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"I'll not use the word hero on myself but I did something that required courage," Vernon, an Army-trained veteran who successfully subdued Brown via hand-to-hand combat, told reporters at CI News.

The assailant, armed with two hunting knives, barged into the classroom after Vernon's lesson Monday afternoon claiming he was there "to kill somebody." Vernon attempted to first distract him with conversation, eventually maneuvering himself between the class -- the intended victims -- and Brown. "I tried to talk to him. I tried to settle him down...I didn't, but I did deflect his attention," he said.

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After the students and their parents successfully fled, Brown turned his violence toward Vernon, lunging at him with a knife, stabbing the man's left hand. "I knew he was right-handed," Vernon said, according to the Pekin Daily Times. "He was whittling on his left arm...He was trying to scare me, and he did." The elderly teacher, who says it's been over 50 years since his combat training, said the first rule of combat is to "be fast and vigorous." Eventually, Vernon's force and weight overcame Brown, allowing time for police to arrive and arrest him.

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In the moment, Vernon recounted, he felt the children and their parents attending the class were his responsibility. The retired Caterpillar employee said he was thinking, "this can't happen here and I'm not going to let it happen."

Brown was arrested and charged with attempted murder, armed violence and aggravated battery this week, according to reports. At the time of the attack, he was reportedly free on bond while facing child pornography charges. Reports said he told police, he "failed his mission" to kill all the children.

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