PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — An ex-convict calmly held a school board at gunpoint, complaining about taxes and his wife being fired before shooting at close range as the superintendent begged, “Please don’t.”
Minutes earlier, the room had been filled with students accepting awards, but no one was hurt except the gunman, who shot himself Tuesday after exchanging fire with a security guard, police said.
“It could have been a monumental tragedy,” Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt said. “God was standing in front of me and I will go to my grave believing that.”
Video of meeting shows 56-year-old Clay A. Duke rising from his seat, spray-painting a red V on the wall, then waving a gun and ordering everyone to leave the room except the men on the board. They dove under the long desk they had been sitting behind as he fired at them.
Duke’s motivation was still murky Wednesday. He rambled to the board about tax increases and his wife, but also apparently created a Facebook page last week that refers to class warfare and is laced with images from the movie “V for Vendetta,” in which a mysterious figure battles a totalitarian government.
The school board was in the midst of a routine discussion when Duke walked to the front of the room.
“We could tell by the look in his eyes that this wasn’t going to end well,” Husfelt told The Associated Press.
Husfelt was calm as he tried to persuade Duke to drop the gun, but Duke just shook his head. The only woman on the board, Ginger Littleton, had been ordered out of the room too, but she sneaked back in behind him and whacked his gun arm with her large brown purse.
“In my mind, that was the last attempt or opportunity to divert him,” Littleton said.
Duke, a large, heavyset man in a dark pullover coat got angry and turned around. She fell to the floor as board members pleaded with her to stop.
After several minutes, video showed Duke slowly raising the gun and leveling it at Husfelt, who pleaded “Please don’t, please don’t.”
Duke shot twice at Husfelt from about 8 feet away and squeezed off several more rounds before district security chief Mike Jones, a former police officer, bolted in. He exchanged gunfire with Duke and wounded him in the leg or side before Duke fatally shot himself, police Sgt. Jeff Becker said.
Somehow, no one else in the small board room was injured in the clash that lasted several minutes. Husfelt said at least two rounds lodged in the wall behind him.