James Vernon, 75 — a retired Caterpillar technology worker and Army vet with combat training — was leading a homeschool chess club meeting with local kids at the Morton Public Library in Illinois Tuesday afternoon when 19-year-old Dustin Brown burst into the room holding a hunting knife in each hand and threatening the children.
“He actually ran into the room yelling, ‘I’m going to kill some people!’” James Vernon told the Pekin Daily Times Thursday.
The Pekin Daily Times reported that the group of 16 children dove beneath a table once Brown, who was facing child pornography charges and focused his attention on the group of children, entered the room.
Vernon said he quickly tried to engage him in a conversation in order to calm him down and distract him from the children.
“I tried to talk to him. I tried to settle him down. I didn’t, but I did deflect his attention,” Vernon said. “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.”
Vernon said he would take a few steps toward Brown who would back away. Eventually, Vernon put himself between Brown and the library’s conference room door.
“I gave [the children] the cue to get the heck out of there, and, boy, they did that! Quick, like rabbits,” Vernon said. The 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.
That’s when Vernon sprang into action.
“I should have hit his wrist. That’s how you’re trained, but it’s been half a century,” Vernon said. “First rule of combat: Be fast and vigorous.”
“I grabbed him and threw… Somehow he wound up on a table,” Vernon recalled, saying one of his knives was pinned underneath him. “I hit him on the collarbone with my closed hand,” Vernon said, until Brown dropped that knife.
Although Vernon said he was “bleeding pretty good,” he was able to keep Brown pinned to the table until another library employee helped to retrieve the knives and keep Brown there until police and paramedics arrived.
He said he felt as though he won his “90 seconds of combat” but felt like he “lost the war” as he suffered two cut arteries and a tendon in his left hand when Brown swiped him with one of the hunting knives.
According to Fox News, is being held on an $800,000 bond. He’s charged with armed violence, attempted murder, aggravated battery to a person over 60 and burglary for entering the public library with an intent to commit a crime.
“I failed my mission to kill everyone,” Brown told police Thursday, according to a prosecutor’s court affidavit.
He told police he’d been planning for two weeks to kill people and then himself, the affidavit said.
Had he brought a gun instead, “It would’ve been a different story,” said Vernon, who is recovering from surgery at his home in Morton, Illinois.
The Pekin Daily Times reported that Brown is also due in court on Monday for the 22 child pornography charges.