James Raoul to receive Medal of Bravery

James Raoul, who is from Sydney, N.S., will receive the Medal of Bravery from Governor General David Johnston for rescuing a teacher and fellow students from a machete-wielding man two years ago in Fredericton. (Facebook)

The bloodshed began with a knock on the classroom door.

James Raoul was among about 15 students in an Eastern College criminology class in Fredericton at around 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 20, 2014, when fellow student Luke Powers arrived late.

"There was a knock at the door. It was him. He had a bag. He mumbled something. He took the machete out of the bag and came at me," Raoul said Friday, as he prepared to be decorated on Monday by Governor General David Johnston for his actions in the ensuing attack.

Raoul — a 31-year-old former soldier from Sydney, N.S., and father of two boys — likely saved his instructor's life as Powers swung the machete savagely around the classroom.

"There was a lot of blood. Bad wounds. He was swinging to kill. But she blocked it," said Raoul.

Acts of heroism

He and another Eastern College student — Sylvain Pedneault, who also helped subdue Powers — will be among 31 Canadians given Medals of Bravery for acts of heroism.

In his first interview since the attack, Raoul said Powers had been a friend. The two had trained briefly together in the Forces before Powers was medically discharged after an injury, and Raoul tried to look out for him when they found themselves at Eastern together.

"If anything, I would say I was his only friend in the world. Once we started school together, I reached out."

Raoul said he usually picked up Powers up on the way to school, but Powers had told him that morning he'd meet him there.

Luke Powers is facing three charges in Eastern College knife attack

Luke Thomas Walter Powers, 31, of Fredericton, was found not criminally responsible for his actions because of a mental disorder after attacking a teacher and students at Eastern College. (Facebook)

When Powers arrived and pulled out the 16-inch machete, he went directly at Raoul, who was sitting four seats back.

"Had I not put up my hands, I don't know what damage would have been done." 

'Almost cut off her hand'

The teacher yelled at Powers to stop, and he immediately turned and ran at her. He was athletic and fit, and started swinging the machete at her.

"He almost cut off her hand," said Raoul, who was dazed and bloody from his own wounds but ran to help her.

"He managed to hit her a couple times before I realized what was happening and got out of my seat."

Raoul said he knocked Powers hard into a corner by pushing a long table into him, and then flipped the table at him.

Raoul grabbed the arm holding the machete and threw Powers against one wall, then another, before the pair fell to the ground and rolled out to the hallway.

"It was intense. I was bleeding and it was all over my face and starting to get hard to see."

'What his motives were, only he knows'

Pedneault, who was in a nearby classroom and heard the yells for help, jumped in. Once Powers was pinned, Raoul took off his shirt to clean the blood from his face and put pressure on the wound on his forehead.

Pedneault was bitten during the struggle, and has other cuts to his hand too. But the instructor — who Raoul said was "the best I ever had" — suffered the most injuries, with wounds to her hand, arms and the back of her head.

Eastern College incident

The attack happened at the Fredericton campus of Eastern College. (CBC)

"The poor lady had her life ruined by this attack, and my heart breaks for her."

The drama lasted no more than two minutes and Raoul said two years later, he still doesn't know why it happened.

Powers pleaded guilty to three charges, but was found not criminally responsible in April 2014. He is confined to a psychiatric hospital.

"Do I agree with it? No," Raoul said of the not-culpable finding. "Do I have to live with it? Yes.

"What his motives were, only he knows."

Biggest guy in the room

A friend theorized that Powers, who was also carrying a knife, intentionally targeted the biggest guy first in a room full of young smaller females and small men.

"Had he taken me out, the rest would have been easy pickings."

Raoul is now unemployed, and said he is looking for work but it is difficult in New Brunswick when you're not bilingual.

"I'm a veteran, so I get priority hiring. I'm scouring the job banks," he said.

On Monday, he and Pedneault will get the Medal of Bravery in a ceremony at the Citadelle of Quebec.