James Vernon: Elderly Veteran Stops Knife-Wielding Teen From Killing 16 Children

It’s rare that an attempted mass-killing results in a triumphant happy ending, but that’s exactly what happened at an Illinois library this week thanks to the heroic efforts of an elderly veteran.

According to the Washington Times, 75-year-old James Vernon endured multiple stab wounds while stopping 19-year-old Dustin Brown from murdering 16 helpless children with two hunting knives. The veteran was holding a chess club meeting with children between the ages of seven and 13 at a public library in Morton, Illinois, when Brown entered the building with the intention of mass murder.

“He actually ran into the room yelling, ‘I’m going to kill some people!'” James Vernon told the Pekin Daily Times.“He was holding two knives.”

Brown reportedly blocked the only exit to the room, brandished the blades and screamed violent threats. While the children hid under the tables, James Vernon stood up to Dustin Brown and tried to reason with him.

“I tried to talk to him. I tried to settle him down. I didn’t, but I did deflect his attention 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.”

Dustin Brown
Dustin Brown

Showing incredible bravery, James Vernon inched toward Brown as the two talked, which caused the knife-wielding teen to take a few steps back. This opened up a small gap in the doorway, enough room for the 16 children to escape. James Vernon shouted at the children to make a break for it, blocking Brown with his own body.

“I gave them the cue to get the heck out of there, and, boy, they did that! Quick, like rabbits,” said James Vernon.

As soon as the children began to escape, the veteran engaged in combat with the teen, using his Army knife-fight training from decades past. He blocked Brown’s attacks with one arm and tackled the teen.

“First rule of combat: Be fast and vigorous,” James Vernon recalled. “I grabbed him and threw. Somehow he wound up on a table. I hit him on the collarbone with my closed hand.”

This blow caused Brown to drop the knife. Vernon pinned the teen down until a library employee was able to come in and remove the weapons. He remained on top of the teen until police arrived to arrest him.

The veteran walked away from the incident “bleeding pretty good.” Brown severed two arteries and a tendon on Vernon’s left hand. He is now safe at home, recovering from the injuries, having saved the lives of 16 children.

James Vernon shows off injured hand
James Vernon shows off injured hand

Dustin Brown entered the library that day with the clear intention of killing the children. He spoke to police after his arrest and said “I failed my mission to kill everyone.”

According to the affidavit, Brown had been planning the mass murder for weeks, also intending to kill himself after the fact.

He has since been charged with attempted murder, armed violence, aggravated battery to a person over the age of 60 and burglary. At the time of the knife attack, Dustin Brown was free on bond for 22 counts of child pornography that were filed against him in March.

James Vernon is being hailed as a hero for stopping the knife massacre, but he admits that if Brown had come to the library wielding firearms like other mass murderers, “It would’ve been a different story.”

James Vernon
James Vernon

James Vernon is a former chess club teacher who retired from his technology career at Caterpillar, Inc. in 2002.

How would you handle the situation if faced with the same threat as James Vernon?

[James Vernon image credit: Michael Smothers / Pekin Daily Times; Dustin Brown mugshot: Morton Police Department; Jessica Chasmar / The Washington Times]