Teacher who protected children from slasher praised as hero

Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Mountain View elementary school teacher is being hailed as a hero for his efforts to protect students from a man wielding a knife in an attack at the school Monday.

But reading specialist Jeff Harriman, 50, says it was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Harriman has been credited for saving lives and playing a critical role in cornering the suspect until police could disarm him.

When the attacker, later identified by police as Jason W. Pritchard, pushed his way into a classroom at the school, he'd already slashed three young boys and was seconds away from seriously injuring a fourth.

As teachers hustled kids into rooms, Harriman followed Pritchard down the hall and into a classroom. He saw Pritchard drag 8-year-old Stephan Hansell from under a desk and begin to slash him with a fillet knife.

Harriman yelled and knocked the attacker away, giving fourth-grade teacher Archie O'Blenness time to get other children from the room. The door then locked shut, and Harriman placed himself between Pritchard and the wounded boy.

''Everything at the time became kind of surreal and in slow motion,'' Harriman said at a news conference outside the school Wednesday.

''I didn't know what I was going to do -- I was getting very scared at the time, and I didn't want to be there,'' he said. But ''I didn't think he was done.''

Teacher Dan Sage broke the door's glass with a shovel and opened it, prompting Pritchard to throw desks at the door. The teachers and others kept the attacker occupied until police arrived.

''When they came in the room, it was a great relief,'' Harriman said. ''I was never so happy to see police in my life.''

Harriman then stayed with Hansell as he was taken to the hospital.

Pritchard has been charged with attempted murder and assault and is being held on $2 million bail.

Anchorage Police Chief Walt Monegan called Harriman a ''true hero.''

Raised on a farm near Omak, Wash., Harriman, a former Eagle Scout, has led an active life, riding bulls in rodeos, working on a ranch, fishing in Bristol Bay and building cabins during summer vacations. He and his wife, Marty, have three grown children. A granddaughter will attend kindergarten at Mountain View next fall.

''I've lived out all my childhood fantasies, I guess,'' he said. ''In fact, I'm still a cowboy at heart. I'm a displaced cowboy.''

Family members said that Harriman is a modest guy uncomfortable in the spotlight, but they weren't surprised by his actions.

''As soon as I heard that a couple of teachers at the school were right in the middle, I knew my husband was one,'' his wife said. ''Not much intimidates him.''

But Harriman said others also deserve recognition for saving children from further harm.

''I feel a little bit funny about being singled out as a hero,'' he said. ''I want to say the whole staff, all of them, they did just as much as I did. I was just the person at the right place at the right time.''

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