Frank Hall chased an Ohio school gunman from the school, witnesses say
But he insists he is not a hero, saying that label applies to first responders
A student says, "He really went out and he proved how much he cared"
Coach on boys who died: " ... I was with them, I prayed with them, I wiped their tears"
Frank Hall insists he’s just a football coach and a study hall teacher, not a hero.
But what else do you call someone who, as students crouched for cover and ran for their lives after bullets rang out in the Chardon High School cafeteria, ran at the shooter? Who kept on chasing him, out the door of the Ohio school, during which witnesses reported another shot being fired? And who, after all that, headed back into the cafeteria to comfort the victims?
Those questions are more easily answered than why the bloodshed occurred in the first place. Three students died, two others hospitalized and a third got nicked in the ear after being shot by a fellow student, identified by authorities and witnesses as 17-year-old T.J. Lane.
As bad it was, many have been credited for possibly preventing even more carnage.
A sophomore girl recalled how her math teacher donned a bullet-proof vest, then pulled in a victim accompanied by a pair of other staff members to safety. Others credited the training conducted at the school, situated in a community of about 5,100 people some 30 miles east of Cleveland, with helping staff and students do the right thing and avert further calamity.
Hall said the hero label best applies to the law enforcement personnel who burst into the school after news got out about the shooting, as well as those first responders who came in after them to treat the victims.
Yet, as much as he deflected the praise, Hall has gotten heaps of it this week.
Ninth-grader Ryan Doyle told CNN that as he was ducking under a table after the first shots were fired, he saw Hall running toward the gunman.
Another witness, fellow freshman Danny Komertz, said he believed Hall probably saved other students’ lives by acting so decisively to go after the gunman.
“He’s a very brave man,” said Komertz.
And U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan put out a statement hours after the shooting crediting “the extraordinary courage of a teacher” – later determined to be Hall – “who chased the shooter out of the school.”
Except for brief earlier statements, Hall broke his public silence at length Thursday during a news conference in Chardon.
He didn’t mention chasing the alleged gunman, beyond saying that he and others did what they’d been instructed to do in the case of a mass shooting, “and it worked.”
But he did talk about being with the three teenage boys who eventually succumbed to their injuries – Daniel Parmertor, 16, who died Monday; Demetrius Hewlin, 16, who died Tuesday morning; and Russell King Jr., 17, who was declared brain dead Tuesday.
“I want you to know I was with them, I prayed with them, I wiped their tears, and I know God was with them,” Hall said, addressing the boys’ families.
He extolled and thanked not only law enforcement, but the teachers and support staff at Chardon High “who went above and beyond, and put the kids before themselves. You’re the best America has to offer.”
Their ranks would include Joseph Ricci, a math teacher at the school. Kaylee O’Donnell, a 10th-grader, recalled how Ricci shut the door to his classroom, told students to crouch down at the front of the room, then went into a locker and pulled out a bullet-proof vest.
Then, she said, Ricci put on the vest and left the room. Soon thereafter, he brought one of the shooting victims inside the room, talking to him and trying to reassure him until more help came.
“Teachers say … their job is, if somebody comes in and shoots, they will put their life on the line,” said O’Donnell, describing Ricci as someone who is “honest, he’s trustworthy (and) you can go to him for anything.”
“You never know it until it actually happens. He showed us, instead of told us. That really amazes me, how brave he was.”
Neil Thomas, another student, offered a similar sentiment when reflecting on what Hall had done.
Until Monday, Hall was probably best known as a coach – mentoring quarterbacks and defensive backs for the Hilltoppers, according to a football camp brochure from the program, with board of education notes indicating he has also served as an assistant track coach.
Yet Thomas said that Hall’s heart and words resonated with students, making it clear in the past that he’d do anything for them.
It just happens that on Monday, in the worst possible circumstances, he was able to prove it.
“Coach Hall, he always talks about how much he cares about us students, his team and everyone,” said Thomas. “And I think today he really went out and he proved how much he cared about us. He would take a bullet for us.”
In his comments Thursday, Hall again expressed his love for Chardon High’s youngsters – urging them to show that “terror and evil do not win out” as they headed back to class with him the next day.
“I can’t tell you how great these children are,” he said.
CNN’s Martin Savidge contributed to this report.