Diego DeMatos, Tammie Jo Shults and James Shaw Jr., left to right.
CNN/Getty Images/WSMV
Diego DeMatos, Tammie Jo Shults and James Shaw Jr., left to right.
CNN —  

From Toronto to Tennessee, they emerged as glimmers of light amid an onslaught of devastating news.

The man driving to the gym when an attacker plowed a van into pedestrians at a busy Toronto intersection.

The man sitting with a friend at a Nashville-area Waffle House when a gunman opened fire.

The former Navy fighter pilot praised for her “nerves of steel” during an emergency on a Southwest Airlines flight.

We all need heroes to inspire us. In the past week, these three stepped up:

He came to the aid of a Toronto van attack victim

01:47 - Source: CNN
Toronto witness: Victim died in my arms

When a van began striking pedestrians in Toronto’s busy North York section, Diego DeMatos was driving to the gym.

DeMatos was still emotional when he recounted the moment Monday when he saw the fast-moving vehicle strike a man and a woman.

“At first … I just thought it was a hit and run,” he told CNN.

It was more than that. At least 10 people were killed and 14 injured when Alek Minassian, 25, carried out his attack.

As DeMatos continued down the street, he saw four or five more people on the ground. Some were still moving, others not.

Further down, DeMatos said a man was trying to help another wounded pedestrian. The man screamed for help.

DeMatos parked, jumped out of his car and ran to assist.

“I went over to try to perform CPR on him. … He died in our arms,” DeMatos said.

A woman handed them her scarf to cover the dead man until police arrived, he said.

“It was like a scene from a war zone,” DeMatos said. “It was really, really horrible.”

He wrestled a rifle from the Tennessee Waffle House shooter

02:19 - Source: CNN
Hero in shooting speaks out

“I just want to be out there as a regular person,” James Shaw Jr. insists.

But there was nothing regular about how Shaw defused a deadly shooting at a Waffle House early Sunday morning.

He was sitting with a friend at the restaurant counter when a gunman wearing nothing but a green jacket opened fire outside the restaurant, police said.

Glass shattered. A man fell to the ground.

Shaw, 29, slid along the floor to the restroom, his mind set on stopping the shooter. When he heard a pause in the gunfire, he leaped into action.

“I figured if I was going to die,” Shaw later told reporters, “he was going to have to work for it.”

He rushed the man with the rifle. They tussled. The gunman cursed and fought back. Shaw managed to wrest the still-hot rifle from the shooter and tossed it behind the restaurant counter. The gunman ran off.

Shaw suffered a burn on his hand and a graze wound on his elbow.

The gunman killed four people, and it could have been more.

But don’t call Shaw a hero.

“Heroes seem kind of like they’re not touchable,” he said. “If I’m looked at as a regular person, if somebody else is in this situation they have that same thing within them that they can project out also.”

She calmly guided Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 to safety

02:41 - Source: CNN
Pilot praised for her handling of emergency

The trouble started 20 minutes after the flight left New York. Passengers said they heard explosions. A plane window shattered after being struck by debris from a ruptured engine. A female passenger was sucked into the hole where the window had been.

But the voice of Tammie Jo Shults exuded calm as she guided Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 and its 144 passengers to safety at a Philadelphia airport.

Shults, one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots, spoke calmly and slowly to air traffic control as the plane experienced engine failure more than 30,000 feet in the air.

“We have a part of the aircraft missing,” she said. “Could you have the medical meet us there on the runway as well? We’ve got injured passengers.”

Was her plane on fire?

“No, it’s not on fire,” she replied. “But part of it is missing. They said there’s a hole and that someone went out.”

The plane plunged from an altitude of 31,684 feet to about 10,000 feet in a little more than five minutes, according to data from Flightradar24.com.

But passenger Kristopher Johnson said the pilot soon “regained control” and informed passengers the plane was headed to Philadelphia.

Passenger Jennifer Riordan of Albuquerque, New Mexico, died at a hospital after she was sucked partially out of the broken window. Seven other people had minor injuries.

It could have been much worse.

After the landing, Shults came out of the cabin and hugged everyone, telling them, “You all did a great job. You did a very good job,” passenger Amy Serafini said.

Passenger Alfred Tumlinson told CNN affiliate WPVI: “She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her. I’m going to send her a Christmas card, I’m going to tell you that, with a gift certificate for getting me on the ground. She was awesome.”