When Principal Daniel Stockwell learned of an active shooter and hostage situation at his high school in East Swanzey, N.H., he immediately went to the classroom where 15 seventh grade students were being held, and offered himself in exchange. The gunman, a 16-year-old boy armed with a high-powered rifle, agreed to the exchange. Stockwell then spent the next 40 minutes talking to the boy, while police maneuvered to subdue him. This was not the first time Stockwell risked his life to save another.

When Stockwell was 20, he rescued a man from pounding surf on the coast of Maine. He had seen the young man swept from a rocky ledge into the Atlantic by the high surf. He appeared to be unconscious, and was being swept out to sea. Stockwell tied one end of a 50 foot rope around his waist, and giving the other end to a group of people on shore to hold, he jumped into the surf and swam 35 feet to rescue the man. He took hold of the man, and aided by people pulling the other end of the rope, brought him to safety, where he recovered.

Stockwell was awarded the Carnegie Medal for heroism–twice.

Why do people like Daniel Stockwell jeopardize their own safety to help others? The question has long intrigued psychologists and neuroscientists. A 2014 study of Carnegie Medal recipients done at Yale University found interesting similarities in personalities. The main similarity was that people like Stockwell spend very little time considering the risks of their actions, even when there would have been time to do so. Instead, they act quickly and intuitively, regardless of their age or gender. “We’ve found that going with your gut can lead to moral behavior, and that second-guessing yourself leads to selfish behavior and self-preservation,” noted one of the researchers.

Photo: Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.