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Gunman opens fire during Fla. school board meeting

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — A gunman calmly walked up to a podium, spray painted a red "V” with a circle around it on a wall and opened fire at school board members Tuesday, sending people scrambling and diving for cover. A security guard soon ran in, exchanged shots with and wounded the man who then killed himself, police said.

No one else was injured. In video of portions of the clash, the gunman, Clay A. Duke, is shown calmly confronting the Bay District school board. Duke, who was wearing a dark pullover coat, stands about 10 feet directly in front of the board with the gun at his side.

Superintendent Bill Husfelt tries to persuade him to drop the gun. Duke suggests that his wife had been fired from the district, but won’t tell Husfelt or the board who she is or her job. Members promise to help her find a new job, but Duke just shakes his head. Husfelt tells Duke he would be ultimately responsible, so the board members should be allowed to leave.

"I’ve got a feeling you want the cops to come in and kill you because you said you are going to die today," Husfelt tells Duke. He then tells Duke that this isn’t worth it. The 56-year-old slowly and deliberately raises the gun and levels it Husfelt, who pleads "Please don’t, please don’t." Duke then fires a shot that misses, followed by several others that didn’t hit anyone.

Before he fired the shots, member Ginger Littleton, who had left the room as ordered, is shown sneaking up behind Duke as he stands next to the board and whacking him on the arm with her large, brown purse.

"In my mind, that was the last attempt or opportunity to divert him," she told The Associated Press.

Duke, a large, heavyset man, got angry, turned around, and she fell to the floor before board members plead with her to stop. He pointed the gun at her head and said, "You stupid b—-" but he didn’t shoot her, she said. She’s not sure why.

"He had every opportunity to take me out," she said.

After Duke, an ex-convict, fired the shot that missed Husfelt, district security chief Mike Jones, a former police officer and board member, came in and exchanged fire with Duke, wounding him, police Sgt. Jeff Becker said.

Duke then fatally shot himself, Becker said. The video shows a distraught Jones, with his gun at his side, being comforted by colleagues as he says he had never shot anyone before. SWAT team officers then storm in and order everyone onto the ground. School officials tell them that Duke is shot and appears dead. His feet can be seen near the board’s seats.

School officials in the Panhandle city said late Tuesday that Husfelt and Jones would not be made available for comment. Husfelt said on Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN that because of the look in Duke’s eye, "you knew someone was going to die." He said he was trying to do everything he could to keep Duke talking.

After the shots were fired, some board members speculated that the bullets weren’t real. But police say Duke’s gun was real.

State prison records show Duke was charged in October 1999 with aggravated stalking, shooting or throwing a missile into a building or vehicle and obstructing justice. He was convicted and sentenced in January 2000 to five years in prison but was released in January 2004. They also show that Duke was a licensed massage therapist before his arrest.

Reporter Daniel Carson of the Panama City News Herald told his paper that he had noticed the man during the meeting and he didn’t appear agitated.

Witness Leon Walters said the gunman was a heavy, disheveled man who walked along the side of the room to the podium.

The man pulled out a can of spray paint and drew a red circle on the wall with a mark through it. Carson and other witnesses described it as the letter "V." The man then pulled out what looked like a pistol.

"What are you doing?" someone asked, Walters recalled. "What’s going on?"

The gunman told everyone to leave "except these clowns behind the counter here," referring to the school board members, Walters said. There are five board members, Littleton and four men.

Carson said the gunman told everyone to leave except the men on the board.

Walters left but stayed behind one of the doors, called 911 and kept peeking inside.

The gunman was in a heated discussion with board members, Walters said.

"I overheard some discussion about his wife needing a job," Walters said. "Or his wife had lost her job or wanting a job or something like that."

Walters heard one member say, "I’ll get your wife a job or I’ll see if I can’t find her a job somewhere."

That’s when Jones, who had been elsewhere in the building, entered and exchanged shots with Duke.

"The guy obviously had a death wish," district spokeswoman Karen Tucker said.

Tommye Lou Richardson, the school district’s personnel director, who was at the meeting, called Jones a hero for his actions.

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