A gunman killed himself after he opened fire at a Florida school board meeting, police said today.
Officials said 56-year-old Clay A Duke shot himself in Panama City after exchanging gunfire with Bay District’s security chief. Witnesses say Duke may have been complaining that his wife had lost her job.
Earlier reports suggested the school’s security chief, Mike Jones, fired the fatal shot, but Panama City police said, after reviewing video footage of the shooting, it was determined that the gunman shot himself.
Witnesses said the gunman walked up to a podium at the meeting, spray painted a red “V” with a circle around it on a wall and began firing. There were no other injuries.
About a dozen spectators were in the room as the board was getting ready to discuss different subjects on the agenda when a heavy, dishevelled man walked along the side of the room to the podium.
Witnesses said the man pulled out a can of spray paint and drew a red circle on the wall with a mark through it, then pulled out what looked like a pistol.
The gunman told everyone to leave “except these clowns behind the counter here”, referring to the school board members, Walters said.
School board member Ginger Littleton reportedly hit the gunman with her purse and he appeared to push her to the ground. He then started firing randomly and many of the spectators fled.
The gunman was in a heated discussion with the school board members, witness Leon Walters said.
“I overhead some discussion about his wife needing a job,” Mr Walters said. “Or his wife had lost her job or wanting a job or something like that.”
Mr 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.”
In video footage of the clash lasting several minutes, Duke is shown calmly confronting the Bay District school board, standing about eight feet directly in front of the board with the gun at his side.
Superintendent Bill Husfelt tries to persuade him to drop the gun. Duke suggests that his wife had been fired from the district, but won’t tell Mr Husfelt or the board who she is or her job. Members promise to help her find a new job, but Duke just shakes his head. Mr Husfelt tells Duke he would be ultimately responsible, 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,” Mr Husfelt tells Duke. The 56-year-old gunman slowly and deliberately raises the gun and levels it at Mr Husfelt, who pleads, “Please don’t, please don’t”. Duke then fires a shot that misses, followed by several others that didn’t hit anyone.
Before he fired the shots, Ms Littleton, who had left the room as ordered, is shown sneaking up behind Duke as he stands next to the board and hitting him on the arm with her large brown purse.
“In my mind, that was the last attempt or opportunity to divert him,” she said.
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.
After Duke, an ex-convict, fired at Mr Husfelt, district security chief and former police officer Mr Jones ran in and shot Duke in the leg or side.
Duke then fatally shot himself, police said. The video shows a distraught Mr Jones, with his gun at his side, being comforted by colleagues as he says he had never shot anyone before. Police officers then storm the room and order everyone on to the ground. School officials tell them that Duke has been shot and appears to be dead.
Mr Husfelt told CNN that because of the look in Duke’s eye, “you knew somebody was going to die”. He said he was trying to do everything he could to keep Duke talking.
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.
Attorney Ben Bollinger, who represented Duke during his trial, told The News Herald of Panama City that Duke was waiting in the woods for his wife with a rifle, wearing a mask and a bulletproof vest. She confronted him and then tried to leave in a vehicle, and Duke shot the tires. He said that as part of his sentence, Duke was required to complete psychological counselling.