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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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VIDEO: Florida School Board Shooting (Full)

As Duke paced back and forth in front of the board, he attempted to explain his personal predicament. His wife was out of work, their health benefits had run out, he was broke, and he was at his wit's end.

Chief Jones stood outside the board room door and slowly cracked it open. He could hear School Board Member Jerry Register make a personal appeal to the gunman.

"Please, just talk to us. If I can help you get your wife a job somewhere else, I'd be glad to do that," Register said.

As Register and Husfelt continued to try to reason with Duke, Jones opened the door further and placed one foot across the threshold.

"Hey," Jones called out in an effort to distract Duke. "You got a real gun there?"

"Come on in," Duke's invitation had all the warmth of a game show host.

Jones refused the invite. "Well, I want you to come on out," he said.

Duke started toward Jones, who backed up from the door, closed it, and squared his body toward it, so as to engage Duke with his .38 when the door reopened.

But as the seconds ticked by and Duke failed to materialize, Jones realized that the man had recommitted his attentions to the board.

Here It Goes

Inside the board room, Superintendent Husfelt tried to save the others by offering himself in sacrifice.

"Listen, I'm the one that signed the (termination) papers, right?" Husfelt said. Motioning to the rest of the board, he pleaded, "Will you let them go? You're obviously upset with me, so why are they here?"

But Duke wouldn't have any of it.

Husfelt made one final plea. "Here's what I don't want to happen. I don't want anybody to get hurt. I've got a feeling that what you want is for the cops to come in and kill you because you're mad. This isn't worth it."

Outside the board room, Jones regarded his .38. If he engaged Duke-and it was fast looking inevitable that he would have to-he'd be outgunned. Getting himself killed would only raise any ensuing body count and fail to save the men inside. Fifty feet outside the room Jones' car was parked, his .40 caliber Glock inside. Hoping that Husfelt could keep Duke distracted for a few seconds more, he ran for it.

Jones reached his car, grabbed his ballistic resistant vest and threw it over his head, then grabbed the Glock and two magazines, and quickly got back to the door.

Peeking through a crack in the door, Jones saw Duke point the gun squarely at the superintendent.

"Please don't," Husfelt pleaded. "Please don't."

Here it goes, Jones thought. Knowing that he didn't have any more time, he yanked open the door just as Duke pointed the gun right in the superintendent's face and fired point blank. Miraculously, the bullet went low, striking the desktop and furrowing into the Formica before ricocheting straight up and lodging into a three-inch-thick notebook atop the desk. Papers flew up in the air as the superintendent grabbed his chest and fell to the ground.

At the sound of Jones' entry, Duke reflexively discharged a second round into the floor. It was the spilt-second distraction that Jones needed.

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