A gunman opened fire at a school board meeting Tuesday, sending spectators scrambling before he exchanged shots with a security guard and then killed himself, police said. No one besides the gunman was injured.
Witnesses said the gunman walked up to a podium, spray painted a red “V” with a circle around it before he began firing.
Bay District School board member Ginger Littleton said she hit the gunman in the arm with her purse when some of the people in the room were ordered out.
“In my mind, that was the last attempt or opportunity to divert him,” she told The Associated Press.
The gunman got angry, turned around, and she fell to the floor. The man pointed the gun at her head and said, “You stupid b—-” but he didn’t shoot her, she said. She’s not sure why.
“He had every opportunity take me out,” she said.
Initially, officials thought that district security chief Mike Jones may have killed the gunman. But police Sgt. Jeff Becker said that after authorities reviewed videotape of the shooting, investigators determined that the gunman, identified as Clay A. Duke, fatally shot himself after being hit by shots fired by Jones.
State records show Duke, 56, served four years in prison about a decade ago for aggravated stalking and other crimes.
Reporter Daniel Carson of the Panama City News Herald told his paper that he had noticed the man during the meeting and he didn’t appear agitated.
Leon Walters, who was also in attendance, said the gunman was a heavy, disheveled man who walked along the side of the room to the podium.
Walters said the man pulled out a can of spray paint and drew a red circle on the wall with a mark through it. Carson and other witnesses described it as the letter “V.” The man then pulled out what looked like a pistol.
“What are you doing?” someone asked, Walters recalled. “What’s going on?”
The gunman told everyone to leave “except these clowns behind the counter here,” referring to the school board members, Walters said. There are five board members, Littleton and four men.
Carson said the gunman told everyone to leave except the male board members.
Walters left the room but stayed behind one of the doors. He called 911 and was peeking inside.
The gunman was in a heated discussion with the school board members, Walters said.
“I overhead some discussion about his wife needing a job,” Walters said. “Or his wife had lost her job or wanting a job or something like that.”
Walters heard one member say, “I’ll get your wife a job or I’ll see if I can’t find her a job somewhere.”
That’s when Jones, who had been elsewhere in the building, entered and exchanged shots with Duke, wounding him. Duke then shot himself, police said.
“The guy obviously had a death wish,” district spokeswoman Karen Tucker said.
Carson told his paper that Jones was comforted by his colleagues and led away.
“He is a hero,” said Tommye Lou Richardson, the school district‘s personnel director, who was at the meeting.
State prison records show Duke was charged in October 1999 with aggravated stalking, shooting or throwing a missile into a building or vehicle and obstructing justice. He was convicted and sentenced in January 2000 to five years in prison but was released in January 2004.
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