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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Panama City, Florida 12/14/2010

When a gunman interrupted a school board meeting, Chief Mike Jones was forced to respond.

May 17, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

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Clay A. Duke spray painted "V for Vendetta" before opening fire.

That ROTC drill rifles are often confused with the real things is no accident of design. So when the members of a Panama City, Fla., high school Jr. ROTC color guard unit were approached by a gray-haired man who inquired as to the authenticity of their "weapons," they good naturedly assured him that the guns weren't real. Satisfied, the man continued on his way onto the Bay School District Administration grounds. Less than an hour later, the man's seemingly innocent query would take on new significance.

Shortly after 8 p.m., the biweekly school board meeting commenced in the district's Nelson Building. Present were school board members, as well as observers seated in the small gallery. For more than 30 minutes, the usual litany of educational concerns were raised and discussed.

Suddenly, a man stood up and declared that he had a motion. Drawing a can of red spray paint from his coat pocket, he sprayed a large circle on the white wall, then rendered a "V" within its borders.

Bewildered onlookers weren't quite sure what to make of the crimson symbol. They hadn't read writer Alan Moore's graphic novel "V for Vendetta" or seen the 2006 movie of the same name. So Clay A. Duke clarified the matter. Then he began to explain the reasons for his actions.

You Fired My Wife

Duke's wife had worked at an elementary school in the Bay County School District prior to being laid off several months before. Now, out of money, out of benefits, and out of patience, Duke was determined to make his grievances known.

Turning from his crimson artwork, Duke drew a .45 caliber pistol from his pocket. Using the gun as a pointer, Duke indicated two women among the staff and said, "You may leave." He then directed those in the gallery to do likewise.

At the sight of the man with the gun, word spread quickly throughout the building, reaching Mike Jones, chief of safety, security, and police for Bay District Schools, who was in his fourth floor office. Running downstairs, Jones, who had retired after a career with the Panama City Police Department, arrived to find Duke casually swinging the barrel of his gun back and forth at the men assembled frozen before him.

AUDIO: Listen to the 911 call

As Duke spoke with his back to the door leading to an adjoining room, School Board Member Ginger Littleton snuck back into the room and crept up behind him. Raising her handbag, she brought it down on Duke's wrist as hard as she could in an unsuccessful bid to knock the gun to the floor.

Unimpressed, Duke looked down to where Littleton's forward momentum had caused her to fall.

"Ginger, Ginger, Ginger..." The plaintive quality of Duke's tone simultaneously communicated an acute sense of disappointment in the woman while letting her know that he did not regard her as a threat. He again allowed Littleton to leave the board room.

Duke paced the floor in front of and behind the dais where the board members sat in a state of disbelief. Pointing his gun at Board Superintendent William Husfelt, he said, "You fired my wife." Then he added, "I'm going to die today."

Please Talk to Us

There was an unspoken acknowledgment among the board members: They were trapped.

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