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Published: Thursday, 12/16/2010

Toledo area schools mull safety for board meetings after Florida shooting

A bizarre shooting at a Florida school board meeting has some school officials considering security at similar meetings in the Toledo-area -- lately the sites of charged atmospheres as parents and employees face budget cuts and layoffs.

The violent incident Tuesday in Panama City left an ex-convict dead after he shot at and missed several school board members. The incident was videotaped and has played on news broadcasts around-the-clock. A school resource officer eventually winged the man, who then fatally shot himself.

The stark video has given some local Toledo-area school officials pause, they told The Blade Wednesday.

Toledo Public Schools has an armed guard at its regular meetings and beefs up security at meetings expected to have larger turnouts because of especially emotional agenda items, such as massive budget cuts.

Other large school districts across the country Wednesday, including in Dallas, were reporting plans to reassess or increase their security at meetings where vulnerable public officials generally sit at the front of large rooms facing a sometimes-angry public.

Some district officials in the Toledo area said it usually takes a special occasion, such as Election Day or a planned protest, to call in a local police officer to provide security.

Ottawa Hills Board of Education members and staff Wednesday discussed the possibility of adding a security presence at board meetings.

"We don't have anyone, and if you had asked me the question before, I would have said meetings are public and we hadn't given it a thought," said Bradley Browne, treasurer for the Ottawa Hills school district. "I would hope it's an isolated incident that stays in Florida. It's a charged atmosphere out there, and you just never know what will cause someone to snap."

In an image taken from video, Clay Duke points a gun at Bay City school-board members and staff in Panama City, Fla., during their meeting Tuesday. The 56-year-old ex-convict shot at the superintendent of schools before killing himself. In an image taken from video, Clay Duke points a gun at Bay City school-board members and staff in Panama City, Fla., during their meeting Tuesday. The 56-year-old ex-convict shot at the superintendent of schools before killing himself.
AP Enlarge

Springfield Board of Education meetings generally are not staffed by security, said Bob Moellenberg, the district's treasurer. But he said a discussion likely will now occur about that policy.

He said a Holland police officer sometimes staffs meetings if school officials feel the there might be a heated topic on the agenda.

"It gave me pause," he said of watching the Florida video. "Anybody can say, 'That will never happen here,' but it did happen. People get upset, and a lot of times they get upset beyond reason."

Occasionally there are heated words and even threats at public school board meetings, said Scott Ebright, spokesman for the Ohio School Boards Association.

He said that during his more than 26 years of work in education and with Ohio school boards, he could think of only one or two thrown punches and some shouting matches -- nothing on the scale of the Florida shooting.

"You don't expect violence," he said.

Florida authorities were offering some explanation Wednesday as to why the ex-convict, Clay Duke, 56, opened fire.

Police say he circled the date on a calendar found in his mobile home, evidence he had been planning the attack for some time. School officials also confirmed that Duke's wife was fired earlier this year from her job teaching special education.

The shooting 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 Duke's home, but the chief didn't provide details.

"He obviously was not happy with our government," the chief said.

Minutes before the shooting, 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.

Video shows Duke rising from his seat, spray-painting a red V with a circle around it on the wall, then waving a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun and ordering everyone to leave the room except the men on the school board. They dove under the long desk they had been sitting behind as he fired at them.

Duke rambled to the board about tax increases and his wife, but he also had 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 fictitious totalitarian government.

In Duke's brief exchange with the board, he said his wife had been fired from the northern Florida district but did not tell Superintendent Bill 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. Mr. Husfelt told Duke he didn't remember his wife but would have been responsible for her dismissal, so the board members should be allowed to leave.

The only woman on the board, Ginger Littleton, had been ordered out of the room, 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," she said.

Duke, a large man in a dark pullover coat, 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 [expletive]," but he didn't shoot her. She's not sure why.

Several minutes later, Duke slowly raised the gun and leveled it at Mr. Husfelt, who pleaded, "Please don't, please don't." Duke shot twice at him 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 Mr. 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. Mr. Husfelt said at least two rounds lodged in the wall behind him.

Toledo Board of Education President Bob Vasquez said TPS did plan for extra security at a school board meeting this year when closing a budget deficit was discussed and finalized in front of a packed house. The board brought in extra Lucas County sheriff's deputies, he said. There was also security at an overflow area where the meeting was broadcast at Leverette Middle School.

Mr. Vasquez said he doesn't expect violence at meetings, but he understands why emotions can run high.

"As we have to make harder and harder decisions, the emotions rise with the frustration," he said. "We deal with emotionally charged issues. You are dealing with school children, and they are their parents' and the community's prized possessions."

The Blade's news services contributed to this report.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com or 419-724-6134



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