School board gunman had Dec. 14 marked on calendar
PANAMA CITY, Fla. – The ex-convict who calmly held a school board at gunpoint and then began randomly firing had circled the date on a calendar found in his mobile home, evidence he had been planning the attack for some time, police said.
The shooting at the Bay District board meeting 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 Clay A. Dukes home, but the chief didnt provide details.
«He was obviously was not happy with our government,» Van Etten said.
Video of Tuesdays meeting show Duke, 56, complaining about taxes and his wife being fired by the district before shooting at close range as the superintendent begged, «Please dont.»
Minutes earlier, the room had been filled with students accepting awards, but no one was hurt except Duke, who shot himself after exchanging fire with a security guard, police said.
«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.»
Video shows Duke rising from his seat, spray-painting a red V on the wall, then waving a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun 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.
Dukes 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 wasnt going to end well,» Husfelt told the AP.
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. Duke pointed the gun at her head and said, «You stupid b—-» but he didnt shoot her. Shes not sure why.
She joked during a Wednesday press conference that her three daughters asked «Are you just stupid? What were you thinking? I dont have an answer for that.»
After several minutes, video showed Duke slowly raising the gun and leveling it at Husfelt, who pleaded «Please dont, please dont.»
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. Police said Wednesday the pair exchanged at least 14 shots, with Jones hitting Duke four times, felling him. Duke then shot himself fatally in the head. Police said he had at least 25 more rounds of ammunition.
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.
In Dukes brief exchange with the board, he said his wife had been fired from the northern Florida district, but never told Husfelt or the board who she was or what she did. Members promised to help her find a new job, but Duke just shook his head. Husfelt told Duke he didnt 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 dont know what he was talking about,» Husfelt told the AP on Tuesday at his Panama City home.
Dukes wife was apparently living with her mother in nearby Lynn Haven. It wasnt clear how long they were living apart, the chief said.
Video of the meeting shows Husfelt telling Duke: «Ive 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 that includes the beach tourism and Air Force town of Panama City said he was sure someone was going to be killed.
Tommye Lou Richardson, the school districts personnel director, was at the meeting and called Jones a hero. As Duke lay on the floor, colleagues comforted the shaken man, who said he had never shot anyone before.
SWAT officers then stormed the room and ordered everyone onto the ground. School officials told them that Duke was shot and appeared dead. His feet could be seen near the boards seats.
People gathered at the home of Dukes wife 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: «Theres class warfare, all right, but its my class, the rich class thats making war and were winning.»
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 Duke was a licensed massage therapist before his arrest but it wasnt clear if he was employed.
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.
It was not immediately clear whether the wife in the 1999 crime was the same woman Duke was referring to at the school board meeting.