A mass murderer, targeting children, was stopped by this heroic, 75 year old veteran in a central Illinois town. Michael Smothers of the Pekin Daily Times reports:
Sixteen children and a handful of their mothers found the only door to their library room blocked by a man who held hunting knives in each hand as he screamed, “I’m going to kill some people!”
Dustin Brown, 19, specifically wanted to kill children Tuesday at Morton Public Library, he said after the would-be victims escaped safely.
Had he brought a firearm instead, “It would’ve been a different story,” James Vernon said Thursday.
Blood was shed, but mostly Vernon’s, because the retired chess club teacher kept his cool, gave his class an avenue of flight and remembered the knife-fight training the Army gave him five decades ago.
Vernon, 75, won his “90 seconds of combat” with Brown, “but I felt like I lost the war,” he chuckled. He cut two arteries and a tendon on Vernon’s left hand as Vernon blocked Brown’s knife swipe.
“I failed my mission to kill everyone,” Brown told police, according to a prosecutor’s court affidavit that accompanied formal charges Thursday that included attempted murder.
Brown, of 300 Fernwood St., said he’d been planning to kill people and then himself for two weeks, the affidavit stated. With two knives in his backpack, their handles wrapped in tape for better grip, he entered the library at about 3:25 p.m.
The roomful of children enjoying a home school chess club meeting drew his focus and anger, he said. Brown, free on bond while facing prosecution charges of possessing child pornography, said he wanted the children to die.
Vernon, who retired in 2002 from his information technology career at Caterpillar Inc., is recovering at his Morton home from surgery for his wounds.
He recalled Thursday how he thwarted Brown’s alleged plans for mass murder and suicide.
“He actually ran into the room yelling, ‘I’m going to kill some people!’ He was holding two knives” that Vernon described as “hunting types” with “fixed blades about 5 inches” long.
The children, ages 7 to 13, scurried under tables in the library’s Hauter Conference Room as Vernon stood before Brown.
“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 children “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 stepped closer to Brown. “He backed away when I’d get closer.” With a few steps, Vernon put himself between Brown and the room’s door, with the children under the tables behind him.
“I gave them the cue to get the heck out of there, and, boy, they did that! Quick, like rabbits,” Vernon said.
“There were no more potential victims in the room. He focused on me. There was no more talking,” but Vernon watched what Brown did with his knives and learned.
“I knew he was right-handed. He was whittling on his left arm” with the one in that hand, “making small cuts. He was trying to scare me, and he did.” But if Brown attacked, “I knew which hand it was coming from.”
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,” he said.
“First rule of combat: Be fast and vigorous,” said Vernon, who was trained but never served in combat. Vernon’s medium build was enough to overcome his smaller attacker.
“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, his arm numbed by the blows, dropped that knife.
Vernon, “bleeding pretty good,” held him until a library employee arrived to remove the knives and help keep Brown pinned until police officers and paramedics arrived.
Brown was ordered held on $800,000 bond pending a Nov. 5 court appearance on charges of attempted murder, armed violence, aggravated battery to a person over age 60 and burglary for entering the library with intent to commit a crime.
He’s also due in court Monday on the 22 child pornography charges filed against him in March.