Heroes come in all shapes and sizes at Pineville Elementary School.
During the school's monthly Character Tea on June 9, two heroes, substitute teacher Isaiah Graham and first-grader John Kish, will be honored for their bravery.
Graham, 64, has been a substitute at Pineville Elementary for three years. He said that after he retired and moved to Charlotte four years ago, he missed working and wanted to do something in his community.
"Retirement bored me," said Graham. "I've always liked kids and have many grandchildren of my own. I thought I would be good at working with them."
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
On May 4, Graham said, he was substituting for second-grade teacher Toni Fink during an average day at work. He took his class to lunch and sat down with them, careful to keep an eye out. A retired Army veteran and a former police officer, Graham has had his share of emergency training and knew to be watchful of the children.
"Kids are always getting into something," he said.
Graham said that in the middle of lunch he heard other students yelling for help.
He ran to the other end of the table, where Landun Schneider, 8, had his head on the table and was gasping for breath. Graham said he tried to give the child the Heimlich maneuver while he was seated, but it wasn't working.
"When I wrapped my arms around his back, the other students said his face was turning blue, and I knew I would need to apply more force," said Graham. "I picked him up and pressed as hard as I could into his ribs and middle. I knew I must have been hurting him, but it was all I could do to get the food out."
Landun had choked on a piece of string cheese and said he didn't know what was happening when Graham came rushing over.
"All I know is that I couldn't breathe," said Landun. "I was scared and didn't know what to do."
Graham managed to force the food out of Landun's throat and said he felt relieved when the child took a long, deep breath.
Once Landun was safe, his parents and the medics were called to the school. Landun was overwhelmed and upset, but Graham stayed calm.
"I knew he would be OK," said Graham. "I guess it comes from my faith, but I knew he would be OK. There was no other choice."
Graham said he remained calm until Landun's mother, Brenda Schneider, came to see him.
"This was her child, her baby," said Graham. "I got tears in my eyes when she began to cry and hug me."
Schneider said that when she came to the school and saw the ambulance, she panicked. Once she saw Landun was OK, she said, she immediately sought the man who saved her son's life.
"I didn't know him from Adam, but I ran up to him and gave him the biggest hug," she said through tears. "Even now, I can't help but get upset about it. When I think about losing my only son, about the 'what ifs,' it makes me upset all over again."
Landun said he had a bruise from where Graham performed the Heimlich maneuver but said it didn't matter. "I'm thankful for my bruise," he said. "Mr. Graham saved my life."
Schneider said Graham is an angel, but Graham doesn't think so.
"I just did what needed to be done," he said.
John Kish, 7, said he felt the same way when he saw his friend and schoolmate fall into their community pool at Meadow Creek apartments on the afternoon of May 29.
While the boys were playing near the edge of the pool, John's friend, who has asked to remain anonymous, fell into the deep end and sank to the bottom.
"He didn't even try to swim up," said John. "I just jumped in and grabbed his arm and pulled him up.
"I thought that's what I was supposed to do."
John said his brother, Jeffery, went to get an adult who called 911 while John stood over his friend.
"I didn't want him to die," said John. "I was really scared."
When his friend returned to school the following week, John and Jeffery said they were both really happy to see he was OK.
"I wanted to do cartwheels when I saw him," said John. "I don't really know what it means to be brave, but I think I was."