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DAVID BENKE, 57

Littleton, Colo.

Classes had just let out at Deer Creek Middle School on Feb. 23 when math teacher David Benke, outside for crosswalk duty, heard what sounded like loud firecrackers. Ready to reprimand an errant student, he turned around and saw a man in a dark fedora and trench coat reloading the chamber of a bolt-action rifle after shooting and injuring two students.

Benke's mind flashed back to the many times over the years he'd promised kids at Deer Creek, just three miles from Columbine High School, where 12 students and one teacher were killed in 1999, "I'd try to do something" if someone ever threatened them. Sprinting over to the shooter and grabbing him by his coat, Benke, a 6'5" marathoner and former college basketball player, wrestled him to the ground, forcing him to drop the gun. "He said, 'Let me go,'" Benke recalls, "and I said, 'Bud, you're done.'" A moment later assistant principal Becky Brown, 50, jumped into the scuffle and grabbed the rifle.

While sheriff's officers booked 32-year-old Bruco Strong Eagle Eastwood-a former Deer Creek student with a long criminal record and, according to news reports, mental health problems-authorities, parents and kids praised the humble Benke, a married father of three. (Both injured students are recovering.) "His quick action and bravery thwarted something that could have been catastrophic," says Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink. Adds Sherry Stegall, who was waiting to pick up her eighth-grader Hannah, 13, when the shooting broke out: "He's a hero – many times over."

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