DIXON – To a standing ovation, Dixon High School resource officer Mark Dallas led the 182 members of the Class of 2018, intact and unscathed, into Lancaster Gymnasium on Sunday afternoon, to face a future some might not have had were it not for his actions.
It was a testimony to the fortitude of the students, and to Dallas’ valor, that graduation went on as planned despite a shooting five days earlier in that very gym, as the seniors gathered to practice for the ceremony.
Dallas’ son, Josh, 18, was among the graduates forced to run for their lives Wednesday morning. On Sunday, he acknowledged his father’s heroism.
“He took the whole school under his wing,” Josh Dallas said. “He’s everyone’s father, savior and protector.”
Students and faculty weren’t shy about thanking another hero there in the crowd: Gym teacher Andrew McKay threw caution to the wind when he ordered the students to “go, go, go!” then turned to face the approaching gunman while alerting Dallas.
Their classmate, Matthew A. Milby Jr., 19, whose mother said had been bullied and ostracized by his peers, brought a 9mm rifle to practice and opened fire. He fled when confronted by Mark Dallas, who gave chase.
The two fired at each other outside the building, and Dallas winged Milby, who now is in the Lee County Jail on $2 million bond, charged with three felonies involving aggravated discharge of a firearm – the first two for firing at Mark Dallas and McKay, and the third for firing a gun in a school building.
The gym was packed with family and friends; members of the media were relegated to the weight room on the balcony. Uniformed and plainclothes officers from Dixon, Lee County and Illinois State Police dotted the crowd and guarded the doors.
During the ceremony, Mark Dallas was given a poster signed by all 182 graduates that read “Not all heros (sic) wear capes. Thank you, officer Dallas.”
As the now former DHS students walked across the stage to receive their diploma, a uniformed Mark Dallas was waiting, ready with a handshake and a hug.
Senior class Vice President Emma Krull, 17, addressed the students about their year, their week and their future.
“We’ve never been stronger, happier and more ready for the next chapter in our lives,” she said. “We are Dixon strong.”
Afterward, with a deep breath and a sigh of relief, Kylie Kutz, 18, said she is feeling good.
“I’m glad its over,” she said of the week.
Her mom, Shannon Kutz, 38, said she, too, is relieved.
“There’s a restored peace of mind today,” she said. “I’m thankful to God that everyone is safe.”
Heaven Turner, 18, was comforted by the extra security, which “helped me feel less anxious,” she said.
Lukas Wedekind, 18, agreed.
“I was excited during graduation knowing that this is a safe place,” he said.