OREM — Rodger Smith's instincts left him no choice but to rush toward danger — where there were frantic reports that a Mountain View High School student was stabbing others.
"For me, it was just about acting quickly," said Smith, a guidance counselor at Mountain View High for the past 13 years. "You just do it. You don't think, you just act. … There's little thought of self at that time."
Smith and five others were honored Thursday with the Orem Police Civilian Medal Award at the Community Heroes Dinner for their bravery responding to a school stabbing attack Nov. 15 that ended with six teenage boys injured.
Smith was in the counseling office when he heard a student yelling that a boy was stabbing others in a locker room. He knew the situation was serious, possibly an argument gone bad. But it wasn't until he saw students running past him in the opposite direction as they fled the locker room, he said, that "I knew it was bigger than just a fight.
"It didn't take me long to get there, I just took off and went," Smith said.
Four boys and the 16-year-old accused of attacking them were all hospitalized, but no students died that day. The most severely injured teen suffered what is likely to be long-term paralysis to his elbow and shoulder, though school officials say he is in good spirits and grateful to be alive.
A competency evaluation for the 16-year-old student is scheduled for Feb. 14 in 4th District Juvenile Court.
Principal Taran Chun, assistant principal Chaz DeWitt, wrestling coach Ross Taylor and physical education coaches Bobby Kaou and Jordan Blanchard were also honored with the award, which according to its description was created to recognize "an outstanding act of heroism and valor."
Orem Police Sgt. Shane Fredricksen was also honored with an Officer Medal Award for his role in subduing the teen.
The civilian award was created in response to the stabbings and is new enough that the actual medals and ribbons haven't yet been produced, Orem Police Chief Gary Giles said, drawing some laughs from the police officers and their families at the banquet. But the honorees were presented with plaques and thanked for their various responses to the incident that Giles said likely saved lives.
The award will hereafter be given to civilians who act in "extremely dangerous" situations to protect others in such a heroic way that not acting at all "would not have been subject to reasonable criticism," the chief said.
"Had it not been for the quick action of these people and all those involved, who knows how many more would have been injured … or even killed," Giles said.
Chun personally thanked Fredricksen and the other officers who responded that day.
"I want you to know the way I felt" when Fredricksen arrived, Chun told the crowd. "The first thought that came to my mind, I kid you not — I felt, 'OK, everything's going to be fine.'"
Giles gave a summary of each of the awardees' actions that day, describing how Kaou and Blanchard evacuated students from the locker room at their own personal risk, how Taylor was able to slam a door on the alleged attacker's arm to slow him down and how Chun was able to briefly speak with the boy and urge him to put down his weapon.
Fredricksen arrived and was able to subdue the teen after deploying a Taser, Giles said, though the boy continued to struggle. Smith assisted the sergeant and was able to wrest the knife from the boy's hand.
"At that point he was by himself and making self-harm gestures, so at that point we just wanted to save him, honestly," Smith recalled.
Smith then stayed with the boy and put pressure on his wound, he said. He wants the teen to recover and overcome whatever it is that led him to those actions and he said that students at the school all feel the same way.
"Not one of them has spoken an ill word (about) the young man," Smith said. "They've spoken words of love and empathy."