Alan Kim  /  AP
Virginia Tech student Kevin Sterne is carried out of Norris Hall on Monday, April 16, 2007.(AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Alan Kim)
By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/20/2007 7:25:09 PM ET 2007-04-20T23:25:09

Sometimes a single image seems to say it all — 23-year-old Kevin Sterne, badly wounded, hanging on, being carried from the worst school massacre in U.S. history.

And then there's Virginia State Trooper Sgt. Matthew Brannock. He was halfway through a day of paperwork when he was called to rush into a nightmare.

"My breath was taken away," Brannock recalls. "It's like, slow motion, then reality, then, you spring into action."

So much violence inside these walls. Where would one begin? Brannock started with Sterne.

"We just tried to keep encouraging him," Brannock says. "He was conscious enough to tell us we were squeezing his arm too hard and the I.V. was hurting his arm."

Sterne — double major and Eagle Scout — had been shot twice in the thigh, one bullet through a major artery. But he fashioned his own tourniquet from an electrical cord.

"Here's a young man who's been injured so badly, but he still has enough frame of mind to save his own life," Brannock says. "I don't know if I'd be man enough to do it."

Brannock, 32, a trooper for eight years and a father of two, was a Boy Scout himself. He had doubts Sterne would make it, but says he saw a will to live in that young man that made him run back inside to find more survivors.

This week, Brannock met with Sterne's parents at the hospital. Sterne and Brannock will meet soon.

"I'll be happy to shake his hand," Brannock says. "He is definitely a hero in my eyes. If I never have to do anything like this again, this is enough."

While the survivors recover, Brannock is back on the job, finding his own healing now in the day-to-day routine.

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