Officer Mark Dallas has been acclaimed nationally as a hero after his actions May 16, when 19-year-old student Matthew A. Milby Jr. opened fire inside the school with a 9mm semi-automatic rifle as he was heading toward the gym, which was filled with about 180 seniors rehearsing for graduation.
The 50-year-old longtime Dixon resident and his son, Joshua, 18, sat down for an interview with Sauk Valley Media on Tuesday afternoon at the office of his attorney, Jim Mertes, in Sterling.
Dallas normally arrives at the school at 6 a.m. but he was running a bit late that morning after the coffeemaker at home acted up, so he got to work around 6:20 a.m. Before school started, his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Lauren, a sophomore, were in the gym to pick up her class ring.
Around 7:45 a.m., Jennifer left, Lauren went to class, and Joshua walked into the gym to join his senior class for the graduation practice.
Dallas peeked in on the seniors in the gym, then had coffee in the athletic director's office.
Shortly after 8 a.m., he heard shots ring out, ran into the hallway and saw Milby looking like he was going over to the gym.
"I let out a yelp at the top of my lungs," he said. "I'm not sure what I yelled, but I got his attention."
Milby ran out and down Chuck Vail Drive, with Dallas in pursuit, dumbfounded that a shooting would occur in his school and worried about the potential of students coming in late and running into the shooter.
"I trained and trained and trained for this," he said. "The training kicked in, and I wasn't going to let him go."
Milby started shooting at Dallas during the chase, and Dallas returned fire, striking him in the shoulder. No one else was injured.
"I think everything went as best as it could," he said.
Joshua said they were in the gym for about 15 minutes when he heard the shots and heard his dad yell.
"I was in shock when I realized my dad was running toward the shooter."
The students fled, then gathered next door in the Illinois Army National Guard Armory, where Joshua found his sister right away.
"I was afraid. I didn't get to talk to my dad," he said.
Dixon Police Chief Steve Howell and police Chaplain Vincent Marrandino both stopped to see Joshua and let him know his dad was OK, then the siblings moved to the baseball diamonds and were picked up by their mom.
Dallas was getting checked out at KSB Hospital, per procedure, and reunited with his family later that afternoon.
"We shared a big old group hug and shed some tears," Dallas said.
Friends stopped by throughout the night, bringing mounds of food.
Now, grocery trips that would normally take Dallas about 10 minutes are more like an hour, with people stopping him to say "thank you."
He's not the type to crave attention, and he's humbled by it.
He said that after the shooting, he felt like he was a prisoner in his own home, where he was on lockdown for 2 days for security reasons. He couldn't even mow his vast yard, in which he takes great pride, but three neighbors helped, making quick work of what normally takes a few hours.
"Everybody in town has been tremendous."
While mowing his lawn the other day, a man riding a bicycle saluted him.
"I get a lot of honking and waves, too."
Dallas started in law enforcement 24 years ago. He was studying in college to be a history teacher when a friend told him about an opening at the Lanark Police Department; he "fell into it."
He then was an officer with the Rock Falls Police Department for 6 years. In July, he'll celebrate his 15-year anniversary with the Dixon Police Department.
Dallas was the department's K-9 officer for most of his tenure, and when his dogs were nearing retirement, he applied to be the school resource officer.
"With police work, you don't get a lot of time to see your kids grow up, and I thought this was the perfect way to see my kids more," he said.
He started 4 years ago while Joshua was a freshman. He also coached football and would keep a stash of snacks in his desk drawer for students stopping by.
Being a school resource officer means building a positive relationship between the students and local law enforcement, and it also means preventing incidents, he said.
"I think it would be nice to have police in every school."
Dallas stressed the importance of his training and the school's training, which included active shooter drills so they know what a gunshot sounds like, and live fire drills.
The doors were barricaded at the high school so well that day that the SWAT team had trouble getting through some of them.
"The kids did outstanding," Dallas said.
Joshua said he knew his dad would keep them safe.
"I wasn't scared for my life, because I knew he would protect us all," he said.
Dallas was born in southern Illinois and moved to Dixon when he was 4 or 5. "I like that hometown feel, and I think the police department is a big part of that," he said.
He will be eligible to retire in 2021, and in the meantime, plans to stay on as the high school's school resource officer.
Joshua will attend Augustana College in the fall. He will join the track team, but still is deciding on a major.
“I think the world needs more heroes ... more heroes like my dad, who go out of their way to risk their lives and protect 700 people.”