US pays tribute to bravest of its citizens

An American army veteran who fended off a mentally ill man who tried to attack a chess class the veteran was teaching is one of 18 people being honored with Carnegie medals.

An American 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 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 October 13, 2015.

“He ran into the room 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, Vernon said.

“I can’t let this happen,” Vernon said at the time.

Letting the children and women escape, Vernon then positioned himself between Brown and the door and fended off the assailant until police arrived. Vernon 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 is serving 32 years in prison.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission was founded and endowed by the late steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Born in Scotland, Carnegie 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 US$39.4 million to 9,971 people or their families since 1904.

Four of those honored yesterday died in rescue attempts, including 10-year-old Kevin Little, 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 October 20, 2015.

Among other winners announced yesterday, with rescues taking place in the hometown of each winner unless otherwise noted:

— Kevin 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 vehicle broke through ice on Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota, in February 2016.

— Merrill 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 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 a tree limb that fell and crushed a slide she was riding on in the Moyaone Reserve in July 2015.

— David Hammond, 64, of Gulf Breeze, Florida, saved a disabled woman from burning when her house caught fire in July 2016.

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