By Joe Mandak / Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — An Army veteran who fended off a mentally ill man who tried to attack a chess class the veteran was teaching at an Illinois public library is one of 18 people being honored with Carnegie medals for heroism.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, based in Pittsburgh, announced the winners Tuesday.
James O. Vernon , 75, was in a conference room at the Morton Public Library with 17 children and four women when 19-year-old Dustin Brown burst in with two large knives on Oct. 13, 2015.
“He actually ran into the rom yelling, ‘I’m going to kill some people,’” Vernon told the Pekin Daily News days after the attack.
The knives were hunting-type weapons with fixed blades about 5 inches long, Vernon said.
“I can’t let this happen,” Vernon told The Associated Press at the time.
Letting the children and women escape, Vernon then positioned himself between Brown and the door and fended off Brown until police arrived. He suffered two slashed arteries in his left hand and damaged a tendon in a finger.
Brown pleaded guilty but mentally ill to charges in the attack and unrelated child pornography counts. He’s serving 32 years in prison.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission was founded and endowed by the late steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who was inspired by stories of heroism during a coal mine disaster that killed 181 people, including a miner and an engineer, who died trying to rescue others.
The commission investigates stories of heroism and awards medals and cash several times a year. It has given away $39.4 million to 9,971 awardees or their families since 1904.
Four of those honored Tuesday died in rescue attempts, including 10-year-old Kevin D. Little Jr ., of Milwaukee, who died from complications of smoke inhalation three weeks after trying to rescue his 2-year-old cousin from the bedroom they shared when their house caught fire on Oct. 20, 2015.
Other winners announced Tuesday, with rescues taking place in the hometown of each winner unless otherwise noted:
Kevin L. Hestleton, 44, of Tiburon, California, rescued a woman from a man with a gun and a pair of pruning shears who attacked her in her yard in San Rafael, California in June 2016.
Nathan Michael Stieg, 30, and Jayden Charles Concha, 14, both of Dickinson, North Dakota, saved a man from drowning and unsuccessfully tried to save a man with him when their all-terrain vehicle broke through ice on Lake Sakakawea in Mandaree, North Dakota, in February 2016.
Merrill O. Naylor, 56, of Stephens City, Virginia, saved a 70-year-old woman from burning in her home in November 2015.
Richard William Dorrity, 64, of Livingston, California, saved a passenger from burning in a pickup truck that crashed and caught fire in April 2016.
Michael Lumahang, 39, and Jesse T. Haw, 24, both of Ottawa, Ontario, saved a 12-year-old boy who fell into the Ottawa River while fishing in August 2014. Lumahang drowned.
John Paul Hollyfield, 56, of Accokeek, Maryland, saved a 6-year-old girl from being crushed by an 80-foot tree limb that fell and crushed a slide she was riding on in the Moyaone Reserve in July 2015.
David E. Hammond, 64, of Gulf Breeze, Florida, saved a disabled woman from burning when her house caught fire in July 2016.
Eric W. Edwards, 39, of Lodi, California, saved a man from drowning after he was caught in a rip current in the Pacific Ocean off Watsonville, California in February 2015.
Jamie Alan Hyatt, 34, of Wood Lake, Minnesota, died of asphyxiation while helping to rescue a man who had collapsed in an oxygen deficient tanker-trailer in Granite Falls, Minnesota in January 2016.
Vincent Santaniello, 56, and Harold Shaw, 68, both of Uhrichsville, Ohio, saved a woman after her pickup truck crashed and caught fire in September 2016.
Rene Roy, 55, of Sherbrooke, Quebec, saved a man after his car crashed and burned in August 2016.
Bobby Lynn Arnold, 36, of Onalaska, Texas, drowned helping to rescue a 7-year-old girl who fell off a boat into Lake Livingston in Trinity, Texas, in June 2016.
Tanner Douglas Boslau, 30, of Bend, Oregon, saved a woman from drowning when her inner tube floated dangerously close to a dam on the Deschutes River in August 2016.