A Life-Saving Play

updated 03/09/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 03/09/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jullaion Jones, 19 Kansas City, Mo.

With eight minutes left in the game, Jullaion Jones, a junior at DeLaSalle Education Center, trained his eyes on the court; his team was up three points and he wanted to keep the lead. Suddenly a fight among a group of young men erupted in the gym; moments later, gunshots rang out.

As people dashed for the exits and ducked for cover, Jullaion saw 6-year-old Desean Merritt standing on the sidelines, frightened and crying. He flung himself on Desean, pulling the boy to the floor and shielding him as bullets whizzed past; one grazed Jullaion's right shin. "I didn't even think about it," recalls Jullaion. Nearby, a frantic Sean Merritt searched for his son. "When I heard Jullaion calling 'I got him!' I was so relieved," says Merritt, the alternative high school's vice-principal. Four people were shot and sustained injuries; police are investigating the incident.

As for Jullaion, an outgoing three-sport athlete who hopes someday to study architecture, he's made Desean's family's hall of fame. "I can't put my feelings about Jullaion into words," says Lisa Smith, Desean's mom. "He's a wonderful kid." Adds Desean, who now includes Jullaion in his nightly prayers: "I feel blessed that he saved me."

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