Army veteran saves 16 children from knife-wielding attacker at Illinois library

In this Oct. 15, 2015 photo, James Vernon, 75, sits at his home in Morton, Ill. Vernon, an army veteran, is recovering from injuries suffered when he fought off a knife-wielding man who threatened children at a central Illinois library. (Robert Downen / Pekin Daily Times, via AP)

MORTON, Ill.  — A 75-year-old chess instructor who fought off a knife-wielding man threatening to kill children at a central Illinois library says this week’s attack will not stop his class from holding its next meeting.

Army veteran James Vernon has one arm in a sling and says his life has been inconvenienced since he disarmed 19-year-old Dustin Brown, who entered the Morton Public Library on Tuesday threatening to commit murder.

But Vernon, who says knife training he received nearly five decades ago helped him in the scuffle, told The Associated Press on Saturday that he was “not going to let this stop the important activity” of teaching children chess next Tuesday.

“We’re not going to be intimidated or scared off,” said Vernon, who described the attack as “an anomaly” and says he’s since spoken to a parent coordinator about moving forward as scheduled.

Plus, you only need one arm to play the game, he said.

Vernon was instructing 16 children when authorities say Brown entered the room with two knives. According to a court affidavit, Brown told police afterward that he “failed in his mission to kill everyone.”

“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. Vernon described the knives as “hunting types” with “fixed blades about 5 inches” long.

“I said, ‘This can’t be happening,'” Vernon, a retired Caterpillar Inc. employee, told the AP. His second thought: “I can’t let this happen.”

The children were able to escape the room after Vernon put himself between Brown and the door. And Vernon says they did not hear or witness the struggle, which left him with two slashed arteries in his hand and damaged a tendon in his finger.

Brown, who was awaiting trial on child pornography charges, is now being held in lieu of $800,000 bond on additional charges of attempted murder, armed violence and aggravated battery. Attorney information for Brown was not available Saturday and it is not known if he has a lawyer who could comment on his behalf.

After the attack Vernon received medical attention at a nearby hospital. That’s when he called his wife of nearly 50 years to inform her.

“I’m proud of him, but then I expected him to do that,” Hanna Vernon, 73, told the AP. “You need to take some responsibility for your community and your country.”

James Vernon, who will turn 76 next Sunday, says he’s learned a heartening lesson from his experience: “Sometimes old guys aren’t as easy of a target as you may think.”

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