Pittsburgh Tribune Review
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Shocking video of a gunman opening fire during a school board meeting in Florida has local school officials thinking about safety at their own meetings.
"It is scary," West Mifflin Superintendent Janet Sardon said Wednesday. "It takes you back and makes you think about how careful you really have to be."
On Tuesday, Clay Duke, 56, opened fire at members of the Bay District school board in Panama City, Fla., after blaming them for his wife losing her job. No one was hurt except Duke, who was wounded by security guard Mike Jones before taking his own life.
The ex-convict had circled the date on a calendar found in his mobile home, evidence he had been planning the attack for some time, police said. Bay District officials confirmed his wife had been fired earlier this year from her job teaching special education.
The shooting was not "a spur-of-the-moment thing," Panama City police Chief John Van Etten told The Associated Press. Police also found anti-government paraphernalia at Duke's home, but the chief didn't provide details.
Rebecca Duke said her husband was a gentle giant who was pushed over the edge by the economy and frustrated over her losing her teaching job.
"He wanted to get me an answer," she said in a rambling news conference to talk about the man she loved. "The economy and the world just got the better of him."
Minutes before the shooting, the room had been filled with students accepting awards.
"It could have been a monumental tragedy," Superintendent Bill Husfelt said. "God was standing in front of me, and I will go to my grave believing that."
Duke stood, spray-painted a red V in a circle on the wall, then waved a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun and ordered everyone to leave the room except the men on the board. He rambled to the board about tax increases and his wife, but 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.
Husfelt 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.
Tommye Lou Richardson, the district's personnel director, called Jones a hero. After the shooting, as Duke lay on the floor, colleagues comforted the shaken man, who said he had never shot anyone before.
In Western Pennsylvania, many districts attempt to control potential danger at public meetings with use of local police.
"We do have a very close relationship with the Murrysville Police Department, and because of their proximity and responsiveness, we are confident that they would react quickly if we suspected a potential problem," said P. Emery D'Arcangelo, superintendent of the Franklin Regional School District.
"It sets the tone if you do have police officers," said Cara Zanella, spokeswoman for Gateway School District, which relies on Monroeville police when leaders suspect an agenda item could spark strong reactions from the audience.
The Seneca Valley School District in Butler County has an armed school resource officer available for meetings.
"Any time we've felt there was a controversial issue coming up, we notify them," said spokeswoman Linda Andreassi. "Fortunately, we've never had a problem, but that is always an option for us."
The district also has mobile metal detectors, but never used them for a meeting.
West Mifflin Area School District has an unarmed security guard at all meetings. There are metal detectors at West Mifflin High School, but school board meetings are held at the administration offices where there are none.
Anyone entering a Pittsburgh Public Schools board meeting must identify himself and be let into the building. Unarmed school police officers are on site. The district brings in metal detectors when necessary. Board member Theresa Colaizzi remembered using them when the board considered school closures.
"We knew there were going to be irate parents," she said. "We covered ourselves. They never found anything."
David Salter, public relations director for the Pennsylvania School Board Association, said that, in light of the incident, it's "maybe time to issue a reminder" regarding the association's stance on public safety at meetings.
The association does not offer training for school board members on how to handle potential danger, but it encourages officials to establish ground rules for conduct.
Chief Donald Homer of the Uniontown School District police said there always is an officer or guard at board meetings.
"There have been a couple of times that people have gotten out of hand and we've had to escort them out," he said.
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