CHARDON, Ohio (Reuters) - "Hey!" yelled Coach Frank Hall when a student gunman opened fire on classmates in the Chardon, Ohio high school cafeteria on Monday. The startled shooter retreated, with the hulking football coach giving chase, in an act of bravery that may have saved lives.
No one in Chardon was surprised that the 6-feet, 2-inch, 300 pounds Hall, a religious man who has adopted four children, disregarded his own safety to protect the kids.
"I hit the ground and heard Mr. Hall yell 'hey' at the shooter. I saw the shooter turn toward Mr. Hall and he ran out. Mr. Hall chased him," student Sebastian Diaz-Rodriguez said on Tuesday.
"He (Hall) did what he usually does -- he breaks up fights," Diaz-Rodriguez said.
The suspected gunman, 17-year-old T.J. Lane, appeared in juvenile court on Tuesday. He was ordered held pending charges of killing three classmates and wounding two others.
One of the wounded, a girl, was with Diaz-Rodriguez when he fled the cafeteria to a nearby room. There they discovered that she had been hit and was bleeding from a gunshot wound. The female student was released from hospital on Tuesday.
Others in the cafeteria dove to the ground or fled in terror, while Hall chased the gunman who surrendered less than an hour later.
"It's not something you can train somebody to do, it's inside of the person," School safety expert Kenneth Trump said of Hall's actions.
"You don't want (to) ... loosely use the term hero ... the real thing that intrigues people is that these are individuals that did something that the majority of people simply wouldn't do," he said.
Police officers who spoke about the incident said Hall may have saved lives, and that his bravery appeared to be instinctive. In an outpouring of gratitude on social media, students said Hall had put his life on the line for them.
"It really has changed everything, how I look at teachers. They were so heroic and there for us. They are family to me. You see what they did for us," said Stephanie Hoover, an 18-year-old senior at Chardon.
Yet Hall does not think he is a hero, his mother said a day after the rampage.
"He says he doesn't really feel like a hero. He thinks anyone would have done the same thing," Mary Hall said of her 38-year-old son.
According to students, teacher Joseph Ricci grabbed one of the wounded students and administered to him in his classroom. Ricci had armed himself with a hammer, students said.
Authorities have credited unnamed teachers for reacting quickly to the incident, and Chardon Police Chief Tim McKenna cited a teacher -- presumably Hall -- who attempted to stop the gunman, and who informed arriving officers that he was out of the building.
People who know Hall said they were not surprised by his actions.
"As soon as I heard it was a football coach at Chardon I knew it was Frank. He's going to do whatever he has to protect his kids, whether his kids at school or his kids at home," Jim Henson, the head football coach at nearby Jefferson High School said.
Henson coaches one of Hall's four adopted sons, two of them brothers adopted a few years ago and two others adopted last year.
"He's stern when he needs to be, gentle when he needs to be," Henson said of Hall, who is married.
Chardon football player Evan Erasmus, 17, said of Hall, "I think his heart is bigger than he is. From what I heard, when the shooting broke out, Coach Hall goes after the guy and almost ends up getting shot himself."
"He's always told us his priorities are his faith, his family and the students at this school," Erasmus said of Hall, the team's offensive coordinator.
An outstanding high school football player and wrestler in Ashtabula, Ohio, Hall had hoped to turn professional in football but became a coach.
"Sports is a big part of their lives, him and his wife and four children are all involved in sports," Hall's mother said.
"God is No. 1 in Frank's life," she added, noting he attends Jefferson Church of Nazarene.
Authorities instructed faculty at Chardon not to talk publicly. A local television station interviewed Hall, who was reticent about speaking out other than to express condolences to the families involved.
"I wish I could have done more," WEWS-TV quoted Hall as saying on its website.
(Reporting and Writing by Andrew Stern; Additional Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Greg McCune)