HICKORY, N.C. — Sensing that his friend's lives were in danger, Justus Day didn't hesitate to take action.
The Catawba Valley freshman basketball player wrestled away a gun from a wanted federal fugitive, saving the lives of the four others who were with him in the parking lot at a high school football game.
Day and his friends Trey Hamilton, Nate Coffey and Jackson Paulus (and) along with Coffey's college football teammate Josh Jones were attending a high school football game between their rival high schools — Cherokee and Smoky Mountain — in Sylva, N.C. on Sept. 14.
With the game well in hand heading into the second half, the group of five decided to leave, but could never imagine what would happen next.
Coffey, Jones and Paulus got into Coffey's vehicle near the back of the school next to the school bus lot while Day and Hamilton were changing clothes near the trunk.
Moments later, Day and Hamilton were approached by a suspicious man, who was holding his hands behind his back and asking for a ride not far down the road.
"We told him that he had to ask the driver," Day said of the man. "As he walked his way up to the driver [Coffey], we see that he has a gun in his hand. I jumped towards him, and he turned around to pull the gun. I grabbed it and pointed it down so that if it went off it wouldn't hit anybody."
Hamilton got the man — 27-year-old Tanner Moren Eagle Larch — in a bear hug to help Day wrestle away the gun from Larch.
"I figured that if I didn't jump for the gun that he would probably pull the gun on my friend, who was the driver," Day said. "If my friend didn't get out of the car, (Larch) probably would have shot him trying to get away from the police. I froze up when I saw the gun. I thought 'he's going to shoot me.' This is probably going to hurt. Not thinking, I just grabbed the gun."
After Larch lost control of the weapon, he fled from the parking lot and was pursued by law enforcement before eventually apprehended and arrested by Sylva Police officers and the North Carolina Highway Patrol at a nearby gas station.
Day and his friends were left shaken from the life-threatening situation.
"After it happened, my hands were shaking, and I was traumatized," Day said. "I just went home for the rest of the night. I didn't even watch TV. I sat on the couch thinking about it. I was proud of myself, but I was also scared that I went through that."
Unbeknownst to Day, Larch had just tossed away a second weapon moments before their encounter while trying to evade police from the Smoky Mountain High School football stadium.
"If he did have that other gun when I pulled the gun from him, I'm pretty sure he would have probably killed me," Day said.
Catawba Valley head men's basketball coach Bryan Garmroth first heard about Day's heroics through Day's AAU coach and was stunned by the news.
"I think that says a lot about his character that he's willing to put his life on the line to help a friend," Garmroth said of Day. "It kind of leaves you speechless. You don't really know what to say. Everyone probably wonders what would they do in that situation."
Many people would consider Day a hero for his bravery and courage in a high pressure situation, but the 6-foot-3 Red Hawk freshman believes he was just doing what he thought was right.
"I held my ground," he said. "I don't know if I'd consider myself a hero, but I did something that mattered."