Chess is best known as a cerebral game with enough time allotted before a well thought through move is actually made. But as 75-year-old James Vernon of Morton, Illinois has shown the world, sometimes cerebral well thought through actions need to be put aside in favor of swift and decisive brute force.
As reported by Fox News on Oct. 17, 2015, and also by reporter Michael Smothers of the Pekin Daily Times on Oct. 15, 2015, the ex-soldier and retired information technologist at Caterpillar Inc. is cited as single-handedly saving upwards of 16 children and a yet to be released number of mothers. As reported, 19-year-old Dustin Brown admitted to fully intending to “kill everyone”. That is until James Vernon intervened.
It was at the quintessentially Midwestern small town of Morton, Illinois that Vernon was volunteering his time with a group of home schooled students attending a meeting of their chess club. Gathering in the conference room of the town’s public library, Vernon was looking forward to coaching the 16 children – ranging in age from 7 to 13 – in one of his favorite past-times, until Brown, armed with two edged weapons that Vernon described as “hunting types” with “fixed blades about 5 inches” long burst into the room.
At approximately mid-afternoon on Oct. 15, it was then that Brown, who is currently out on bond for 22 counts of child pornography, entered the library. Seeing a mass of women and children in the conference room with a singular elderly male present, he considered the group an easy target.
Vernon related regarding Brown, “He actually ran into the room yelling, ‘I’m going to kill some people!’” With both handles of the knives taped down for a better grip, Vernon’s Army training from almost five decades ago simply kicked in.
“I tried to talk to him. I tried to settle him down,” Vernon stated. “I didn’t, but I did deflect his attention” from the kids “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 slowly moved closer to Brown. “He backed away when I’d get closer.” With a few steps, Vernon bravely put himself between Brown and the conference room door, the only means of escape for the children and the handful of mothers. “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’s sharp eye and even sharper mind quickly assessed Brown’s next move and probable attack. “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 at Vernon from the right, 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 as he interjected some self-depreciating humor.
“I grabbed him and threw … Somehow he wound up on a table” with the attacker’s knife in his left hand pinned under his body, Vernon said. “I hit him on the (right) collarbone with my closed hand” until Brown couldn’t take the severe beating any longer, finally dropped the knife.
Vernon, “bleeding pretty good,” kept the wannabe killer of children held down until a library employee arrived to remove the knives and helped keep Brown pinned down until police officers and paramedics arrived. The hero suffered two arteries and a tendon slashed in his left hand.
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.
According to an affidavit, Brown told police he’d been planning for two weeks to kill people and then himself. The affidavit also admitted to the police, “I failed my mission to kill everyone.”