JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY -- Any lessons that James Ahern may have tried to get across to students in the history classes he teaches at Jersey City's Dickinson High School were forced to take a back seat yesterday.
Inside Room 104 at the school, students pressed Ahern for details of his role in a story that appeared on the front page of several newspapers yesterday morning.
"You've got to explain the whole story to us," one student told Ahern, as the teacher's face broke into a wide grin.
Ahern, a retired lieutenant in the Jersey City Police Department, is being hailed as a hero after coming to the aid of William Chavis, a Jersey City officer who was shot by a woman outside the school Wednesday afternoon following a routine traffic stop.
While eating lunch in his car, Ahern watched the shooting unfold, ran to grab the fallen officer's weapon and handcuffs, and chased after and arrested the armed female suspect in a nearby pizzeria.
Chavis' relatives, including some of his children, paid a visit to the high school yesterday to show their gratitude. They handed Ahern a plaque, balloons and several hugs.
"I'm definitely glad he was there for my father," said Christina Chavis, one of Chavis' daughters. "It's crazy. I really can't believe what he (Ahern) did."
Several of Ahern's students were even more dumbfounded by their teacher's actions.
"I was really surprised to hear about all of this because he's always such a quiet guy," said Namira Khanam, an 18-year-old senior in Ahern's history class. "Now, I look at him in a different way. I still think he's a really good teacher, too."
Cindy Boos, another Dickinson senior, said Ahern should be praised for using good instincts.
"He went beyond the call of duty, and if it were me I think I would have done the same thing," Boos said.
Ahern, 51, said he was a bit bewildered and overwhelmed with all the attention over the incident. As a policeman, he said he faced similar dangerous scenarios before.
"I don't consider myself a hero," he said. "I just think maybe there was a reason for me to be there."
Ahern said he felt a little uneasy as he chased the alleged cop shooter.
"I thought, 'Well, she just shot a police officer, so there's no reason why she wouldn't shoot me, too,' " Ahern said.
Ahern, husband of Noreen Ahern for 29 years and father of two grown daughters, said that after the incident he left a brief and nondescript message with his wife on the answering machine at their home.
"All I said was something happened at the school today and I had to go to the police station," Ahern said. "She found out what happened a few hours later from people calling the house. When I got home, she said to me, 'You're not supposed to be doing that kind of stuff anymore.' "
Robert Donato, principal at Dickinson High, said he has always singled out Ahern as one of the school's assets.
"I don't think he likes all the fanfare," Donato said. "Many of our students have a lot of respect for him. All you have to do is ask him to do something and he's there for you."
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