Florida school board members targeted by a vengeance-seeking gunman said Wednesday it was nothing short of a miracle that they survived the “surreal” attack. Its still surreal still moving in slow motion through my head, said Bay County school board member Ryan Neves at a press conference Wednesday morning. If youre not a believer in miracles, watch that tape again, he added, referring to the video footage that was released after Tuesdays shooting.I think its safe to say that somebody was watching over the school board, said Deputy Chief Robert S. Colbert of the Panama City Police Department when asked during an earlier briefing how unlikely it was that none of the gunmans six targets were hit.
The shooter — identified as 56-year-old Clay Duke — barged into the Bay County school board meeting in Panama City, Fla., while it was in session Tuesday. He spoke briefly about his wife being fired, spray painted the letter “V” on the wall — apparently a reference to the movie “V For Vendetta” — then produced a handgun. Colbert said Dukes wife had been terminated from the school board within the past year and that Duke had harbored some lingering feelings for Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt, who was present during the meeting.
Husfelt told Fox News Channel on Wednesday that Duke dismissed the women and children from the room and took the remaining members hostage. “It was so surreal. I knew he was going to pull the trigger. I could see it in his eyes,” he said. “He’s standing as close to me as I am to this camera. It’s only by God’s grace that I’m able to sit here and talk to you now.” At one stage, Ginger Littleton, a fellow school board member, apparently hit Duke with her purse. Husfelt, who called Littleton a hero Wednesday, said he was sure she was going to be killed, but she managed to escape.
Littleton said that coming back to the scene of the crime Wednesday and seeing the bullet holes in the walls and some blood on the floor made it very real. Her sentiments were echoed by a fellow board member who said he didnt appreciate how close he had been to the line of fire until he saw the bullet holes in the wall behind each of the board members chairs. Before Duke opened fire, Husfelt tried reasoning with the gunman, pleading with him not to shoot anyone and claiming to have been the one who dismissed his wife.
“I’m the one who signed the papers … let them go,” Husfelt said, referring to the other board members who were still in the room. “I don’t want anybody to get hurt. I’ve got the feeling that what you want is … you want the cops to come in and kill you because you are mad. Because you said you are going to die. But why? This isn’t worth it.”
Duke simply raised his gun and aimed straight at Husfelt. “Please don’t,” Husfelt said. “Please don’t.” The shooter calmly let off several rounds. Incredibly, he missed, and the board members fell to their knees behind their desk. At that point, the school’s security chief, Mike Jones, entered the room and exchanged shots with Duke, bringing him to the ground. Duke then shot himself in the head and was killed. Husfelt credited Jones with saving their lives and Colbert called him the hero of the day. Jones was hospitalized after his exchange of fire with Duke, but was due to be released Wednesday, Husfelt said. The board members said they were trying to get back to their normal lives after the shooting, though “It’s going to be hard to sleep,” Neves commented. “This is something that changes you for life.”
Husfelt said the school board would be cautious not to overreact to the incident. “Were not gonna start arming every school and putting up barbed wire everywhere,” he said Wednesday. Panama City Police were still investigating the incident and a medical examiner was expected to perform an autopsy on Duke Wednesday. On his Facebook profile, Duke describes himself as a “Freedom Fighter” and a humanist. He goes on to deliver his own obituary, blaming the wealthy in America for his actions.
“My Testament: Some people (the government sponsored media) will say I was evil, a monster (V) … no … I was just born poor in a country where the Wealthy manipulate, use, abuse, and economically enslave 95% of the population.” He added, “Rich Republicans, Rich Democrats … same-same … rich … they take turns fleecing us … our few dollars … pyramiding the wealth for themselves. The 95% … the us, in US of A, are the neo slaves of the Global South. Our Masters, the Wealthy, do, as they like to us…” Duke was already known to the Florida authorities, having been sentenced to five years in custody in 2000 for aggravated stalking of a former girlfriend and shooting at her vehicle, according to the Panama City News Herald.