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School board gunman had Dec. 14 marked on calendar
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Police said Wednesday that the ex-convict who held a Florida school board at gunpoint had been planning to do it for some time.
Panama City police Chief John Van Etten said Tuesday’s date was circled on a calendar found in the trailer where 56-year-old Clay A. Duke lived north of Panama City.
Chief Van Etten said the incident was not “spur of the moment.” Police also found anti-government paraphanelia in Mr. Duke’s home.
Mr. Duke shot himself after firing at school board members during a meeting Tuesday. No one else was hurt. Before opening fire, he painted a red V on a wall and talked about taxes and his wife being fired.
Bay District Schools Personnel Director Tommye Lou Richardson on Wednesday said Rebecca Crowder-Duke, Mr. Duke’s wife, was fired in February. The district hired her in September 2009 to teach students with special needs, but Mrs. Crowder-Duke didn’t pass probation.
Reporters were asked to leave the house where Mrs. Crowder-Duke is believed to be living.
Minutes before the shooting, the room was filled with students accepting awards, but no one was hurt except the gunman, who shot himself 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 the meeting showed Mr. 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.
Mr. 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.
“We could tell by the look in his eyes that this wasn’t going to end well,” Mr. Husfelt told the Associated Press.
Mr. Husfelt was calm as he tried to persuade Mr. Duke to drop the gun, but Mr. 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,” Ms. Littleton said.
Mr. 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. Duke pointed the gun at her head and said, “You stupid …,” but he didn’t shoot her. She’s not sure why.
“I think the ‘you stupid’ part, I thought at that point, probably, you’re right. I was pretty stupid,” Ms. Littleton told NBC’s “Today” show early Wednesday.
Mr. Duke shot twice at Mr. 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 Mr. Duke and wounded him in the leg or side before Mr. Duke fatally shot himself, police Sgt. Jeff Becker said.
Somehow, no one else in the small board room was injured in the clash, which lasted several minutes. Mr. Husfelt said at least two rounds lodged in the wall behind him.
In Mr. Duke’s brief exchange with the board, he said his wife had been fired from the northern Florida district, but he did not tell Mr. Husfelt or the board who she was or what she did. Members promised to help her find a new job, but Mr. Duke just shook his head. Mr. Husfelt told Mr. Duke he didn’t remember his wife but would have be responsible for her dismissal, so the board members should be allowed to leave.
“He said his wife was fired, but we really don’t know what he was talking about,” Mr. Husfelt told the AP at his Panama City home. “I don’t think he knew what he was talking about.”
Video of the meeting shows Mr. Husfelt telling Duke, “I’ve got a feeling you want the cops to come in and kill you because you said you are going to die today.” Later, the head of more than 30 schools in the district, which includes the beach tourism and Air Force town of Panama City, said he was sure someone was going to be killed.
People gathered at Mr. Duke’s home Tuesday night asked reporters to leave. On a Facebook page under his name, the only dated entries are from Dec. 7 and 8. The page shows a cryptic message in the “About Me” section.
“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 percent of the population. Rich Republicans, Rich Democrats … same-same … rich … they take turns fleecing us … our few dollars … pyramiding the wealth for themselves.”
His Facebook profile picture is the red V symbol he spray-painted on the wall during the meeting, and his page includes photos from the film version “V for Vendetta,” which was also a graphic novel.
He quotes billionaire Warren Buffett, who told the New York Times in 2006, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class that’s making war and we’re winning.”
Mr. Duke was charged in October 1999 with aggravated stalking, shooting or throwing a missile into a building or vehicle and obstructing justice, according to state records. He was convicted and sentenced in January 2000 to five years in prison and was released in January 2004. Records show Mr. Duke was a licensed massage therapist before his arrest, but it wasn’t clear if he was employed.
Attorney Ben Bollinger, who represented Mr. Duke during his trial, told the News Herald of Panama City that Mr. 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 Mr. Duke shot the tires. He said that as part of his sentence, Mr. Duke was required to complete psychological counseling. Mr. Bollinger did not immediately return a phone message from the AP.
“The guy obviously had a death wish,” district spokeswoman Karen Tucker said of Mr. Duke.
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