A situation in which a 12-year-old boy dressed in camouflage, wielded a rifle and held people hostage at Bull Run Middle School last year might have become another tragedy echoing Columbine.
But quick thinking by five Prince William County police officers June 18 led to the arrest of a troubled youth without a single gunshot fired or a life lost.
The officers were scheduled to receive top honors and recognition at yesterday's 19th annual Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce Valor Awards, which was to occur after Prince William Extra's deadline. Twenty-four public safety officials were to be honored with 26 awards at the Clubs of Quantico on Quantico Marine Corps Base for service above and beyond the call of duty.
Prince William police Officers S.L. Bennett, R.V. Knapczyk II, B.C. Nevitt, E.Z. Toto and H.A. Vance, the first to respond to the Bull Run Middle emergency, won the Gold Medal, the highest local honor bestowed on a public safety official for bravery and heroism.
"I'm very proud of their actions," Police Chief Charlie T. Deane said. "These officers responded in a textbook fashion and resolved this matter with the assistance of the school staff, who did a great job, too. . . . They're heroes in my book."
The young gunman was taken into custody within 17 minutes of the first 911 call, which was made by an assistant principal who had heard the boy loading a rifle and rushed into the school office, the awards committee wrote.
Police said the boy went into the office, wielding the rifle and ordering about a dozen staff members and students to the floor. At one point, he pointed a rifle at the head of a woman who was crouched underneath her desk, calling for help, police said.
The chamber also honored James Bruning, a safety telecommunicator, with the Merit Award. Authorities said that throughout the ordeal, Bruning remained calm and provided information to the officers in the field until the boy was taken into custody.
Vance and Toto also won the Silver Medal for risking their lives in an unrelated incident while arresting a man thought to be on drugs during a domestic disturbance in Manassas last year. During a struggle, the officers used a baton and pepper spray to subdue the 6-foot-tall man, who weighed more than 300 pounds and pinned them down at times.
Vance shot the man in the leg before arresting him.
"If not for the training, teamwork and perseverance of Officers Toto and Vance, they may have had to resort to deadly force against the suspect or may have been more seriously harmed," the awards committee wrote.
Fire Capt. James McAllister and firefighter John Roberts of the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department were honored with the Bronze Medal for their efforts in saving the lives of a father and son after responding to a boating accident near the confluence of the Occoquan and Potomac rivers in November.
Also receiving the Bronze Medal were Lance Cpl. Bryon P. Moore and Pfc. Douglas A. Vranna of the Marine Corps Air Facility/Aircraft Rescue unit for assisting two elderly boaters whose fishing boat flipped over at the Marine Air Corps facility in Quantico last year. Staff Sgt. David B. Isaacks received the Bronze Medal, too, for rescuing a pilot on the base.
Honored with Merit Awards were Lt. Tammy Hill and Capt. Terry Hill of the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department and Prince William County police Officers R.J. Davis and J.N. Sutton.
Receiving Lifesaving Awards were county police Officers W.F. Van Antwerp, M.A. Depatie and D.J. Cumings; technicians Justin Lefever, David Rossi, Corey Davis and Charles Gilliam of the Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue; and Annette "Scotty" Juran of the Prince William County Police Crossing Guard Bureau.
Detective Edwin C. Rivera of Manassas police received the Hillary Robinette Award for investigation.