Andy Payne served two tours in Iraq and came home without a scratch, but Monday he had to grab an attacker’s butcher knife by the blade to save his own life on Ohio State University’s campus.
Payne, a Champaign County native, Army veteran and father of three is now home in Columbus recovering from surgery, surrounded by his family. The Ohio State student was outside Wells Hall because of a fire alarm Monday morning when Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove through a crowd of students and faculty.
“Once he let off the gas pedal and the car came to a stop, I began to take a few steps toward the car to help people who were hit,” Payne said, adding that he assumed the driver had lost control of the car.
“That’s when the individual got out with knife and he attacked someone to my right. Then he turned to attack me and I grabbed the knife with my left hand, which gave me enough time to get under his arm and away from him.”
Payne, a 2006 Graham High School graduate, said his left hand was cut across the entire palm and into the thumb. He had surgery Monday at Grant Medical Center in Columbus to repair damaged tendons and nerves.
“He turned to swing at me, and I just instinctively reached up my hand and grabbed the knife,” Payne said. “At that point it was chaos and I couldn’t even tell you what was going through my mind. It was just – get away.”
Payne’s mother, Cheri Stewart, said she “kind of lost it” when she first heard that her son was hurt.
“Andy’s just a super guy. He’s got a heart as big as all outdoors,” Stewart said. “Anybody that’s in need, he would never walk away from, and that’s what got him into this.
“He thought it was just a car accident, and he went to help the victims of what he thought was an accident. And then this melee ensued.”
Payne deflected any talk that he was a hero for grabbing the knife and potentially slowing down Artan before police arrived.
“I just kept him from stabbing me,” Payne said. “It wasn’t like I was trying to tackle him or take him out or anything. I was just trying to keep the knife from hitting me.”
Payne said he didn’t hear Artan say anything during the knife attack, as he was “swinging for anyone he could reach.”
“When he got out of the vehicle, he was angry,” Payne said. “I thought maybe he was angry because someone had cut him off or something and caused him to wreck. But that changed rather quickly when I saw him swinging the knife.”
Brad Sheridan was Payne’s neighbor growing up in St. Paris and said they’ve been best friends since he was 12 years old. He said he wasn’t surprised Payne first started toward the crash to help.
“A lot of that is first-responder stuff. We grew up doing that when we were on the junior fire department,” Sheridan said. “He enjoyed doing that because he always liked helping people. He’s just a caring guy who would always help anybody at the drop of a hat. … But he’s not one to really talk about himself.”
Sheridan said Payne was in the band and choir at Graham, was involved in his church, and the two rode four-wheelers and dirt bikes in their spare time.
“I was talking to him last night and said ‘thank God you’re all right,’ but he said, ‘Mine’s not the worst,’ ” Sheridan said, referring to a person who was hit by Artan’s car and suffered a fractured skull. “He was more worried about the other people.”
Stewart said Payne enlisted in the Army when he was a senior at Graham High School, and she had to sign for him, because he was only 17.
“We sat down and had a serious talk about it,” Stewart said. “He said that he felt like it was his obligation as an American — that his grandfathers had both served. He felt that it was his duty. He told me what his plan was — what he was going to enlist for and everything. He had it all thought out.”
Payne said he was in the Army from 2006 through 2012, working on helicopters. His mother, who called Payne “the least fame-seeking person you would ever see,” was the one who added that her son served two tours of duty in Iraq, calling it “bizarre” that he would end up getting hurt at home.
Payne is studying welding engineering at Ohio State and said he’s on track to graduate in December 2017. Stewart, a nurse at Mercy Memorial Hospital in Urbana, said when she saw a WHIO alert mentioning Watts Hall she knew her son had a class in that building.
“I said I’m going to text him, and if he doesn’t text me back right away, then I know he’s involved,” Stewart said. “I didn’t get an answer back.”
Payne said after being stabbed, he ran into an adjacent building, only then realizing how badly he had been cut. He worked his way around the building to find fire department medics who could help stop the bleeding.
“I called my wife (Hilary) and let her know that I had been injured but was OK, and that she needed to find someone to watch our kids because she needed to come to the hospital,” Payne said.
Stewart got that information from Hilary and left work immediately. A friend drove her to the hospital.
“I was still very anxious and fearful until I got into the room and saw Andy and got to hug him and talk to him myself,” she said. “Once I did that, I knew that he was OK and that regardless of all that happened to that point, everything would be OK.”
On Tuesday, Payne stayed at his suburban Columbus home, surrounded by family, including his 5-year-old daughter and 3- and 1-year-old sons. Doctors told him he faces up to two months of rehab to get full range of motion back in his hand, but he said the nerve damage “is a little more touch and go,” with the prognosis uncertain.
Asked how he felt 24 hours after the attack, he was still processing things.
“Confused, I guess, about the whole situation,” Payne said. “Campus is supposed to be a safe place, but it turned out not to be yesterday.”