A gunman calmly walked to a podium, spray painted a red “V” with a circle around it on a wall and opened fire at school board members, sending people scrambling and diving for cover. A security guard soon ran in, shot and wounded the man, who then killed himself, police said.
Despite several shots being fired in a small room, no one else was hit.
In video of the clash that lasted several minutes, the gunman, Clay Duke, dispassionately confronted the Bay District, Florida, school board, telling everyone to leave except the men on the five-member board. Duke, who was wearing a dark pullover coat, stood about 2.4m directly in front of the board with the gun at his side.
Superintendent Bill Husfelt tried to persuade him to drop the gun. Duke suggested that his wife had been fired from the district, but didn’t tell Husfelt or the board who she is or her job. Members promised to help her find a new job, but Duke just shook his head.
Husfelt told Duke he would be responsible for her dismissal, so the board members should be allowed to leave.
“I’ve got a feeling you want the cops to come in and kill you because you said you are going to die today,” Husfelt told Duke.
Husfelf then told Duke that this isn’t worth it.
The 56-year-old slowly and deliberately raised the gun and leveled it at Husfelt, who said: “Please don’t, please don’t.”
Duke then fired two shots that missed, followed by several others that didn’t hit the half-dozen or so people still left in the room.
Before he started shooting, the only woman board member, Ginger Littleton, snuck up behind Duke as he stood next to the panel’s long, beige desk and whacked him on the arm with her large, brown purse made of an alligator-like material.
“In my mind, that was the last attempt or opportunity to divert him,” she said afterward.
Duke, a large, heavyset man, got angry, turned around and she fell to the floor and board members pleaded with her to stop.
Duke pointed the gun at her head and said: “You stupid bitch,” but he didn’t shoot her, she said.
Littleton was not sure why.
“He had every opportunity to take me out,” she said.
After Duke, an ex-convict, fired and missed Husfelt, district security chief and former police officer Mike Jones ran in and exchanged shots with Duke. It appears in the video that Jones shot Duke in the leg or side.
Duke then fatally shot himself, police sergeant Jeff Becker said. The video shows a distraught Jones, with his gun at his side, being comforted by colleagues as he said he had never shot anyone before.
Police officers then storm the room and order everyone onto the ground. School officials tell them that Duke is shot and appears dead. His feet can be seen near the board’s seats.
“It was so surreal. You couldn’t believe it was going on,” Husfelt said at his Panama City home. “He said his wife was fired, but we really don’t know what he was talking about. I don’t think he knew what he was talking about.”
Minutes before Duke got up, the room had been filled with students receiving awards, he said.
“It could have been a monumental tragedy,” Husfelt said.
“God was standing in front of me and I will go to my grave believing that,” Husfelt said. “We could tell by the look in his eyes that this wasn’t going to end well.”
As for the V inside a circle that Duke painted, it’s the same symbol used in the graphic novel series and movie V for Vendetta.
After everything stopped with Duke lying shot on the floor, some board members speculated that the bullets weren’t real. However, police say Duke’s gun was real — and the video shows papers flying up on Husfelt’s desk. He said two bullet holes were found in the wall behind his seat.
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. They also show that Duke was a licensed massage therapist before his arrest.
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