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Rambling gunman dead after opening fire at Florida school meeting

By Vivian Kuo and Phil Gast, CNN
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Gunman takes hostages at board meeting
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Man who fired at school board members apparently kills self
  • Gunman had complained about fired relative
  • He reportedly spray-painted a wall during incident

Get the local report from WJHG.

(CNN) -- Clay Duke sat quietly through the first portion of the Bay District Schools, Florida, school board meeting Tuesday afternoon as local children were honored for their achievements.

When it came time for citizens to bring up issues, the 56-year-old resident calmly approached the front.

He spray painted a red "V" with a circle around it on the wall, brandished a small-caliber handgun and ordered the room cleared at a Panama City schools building.

"Six men stay. Everyone else leave," the burly gunman said.

Moments later, Ginger Littleton, a board member, returned to the room and swung a purse at him. She ended up on the ground after the two struggled. The gunman cursed her, but did not open fire and he let her leave the room.

Someone was going to die, he said.

Man opens fire at school board meeting
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RELATED TOPICS
  • Panama City
  • Florida
  • Crime and Law

At that point, Duke, as seen on the dramatic live internet feed provided by CNN affiliates WJHG and WMBB, began a rambling discourse that included the apparent firing of his wife and sales taxes.

The confrontation ended in the gunman identified as Duke calmly firing at the school officials, being wounded and, according to police, taking his own life.

At first, school board members and Superintendent Bill Husfelt tried to reason with Duke, who had a criminal record. They talked about possibly finding a job for Duke's wife or looking into the case.

Husfelt told the gunman that he likely signed the termination papers, but didn't recall the circumstances.

"I'm the one who signed the papers," Husfelt. "Let them go," he said referring to the school board members.

At one point, Husfelt said, "I don't want anybody to get hurt. I've got a feeling that what you want, is you want the cops to come in and kill you because you are mad. Because you said you are going to die."

"But why? This isn't worth it," the superintendent told him. "This is a problem."

The gunman then pointed the pistol at the official.

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

The gunman opened fire at Husfelt and school board members. He missed them all, even though he was at close range, said Lee Stafford, director of student services of Bay District Schools. Duke said, "I'm going to kill [unintelligible]," while he fired.

Mike Jones, chief of security for the school system and a retired police officer, exchanged fire with Duke, who was wounded and rolled to the ground. Duke turned his gun on himself, dying of a fatal gunshot to the head, authorities said. Husfelt called Jones a "hero."

The gunman was declared dead at a local hospital. An autopsy is expected Wednesday.

Police and school officials were left to piece together what happened.

"I'm sure they never expected this kind of event to occur," Sgt. Jeffrey Becker of the Panama City Police Department.

The superintendent later related the event as being "surreal," Becker said.

Husfelt told reporters that Duke had almost a smile on his face. "He made up his mind. You could tell he was going to die."

The superintendent said he believes the gunman used a combination of live bullets and blanks. But police said live bullets were used.

Husfelt told "AC360" Tuesday night that the gunman was "just mixed up" and that he tried to calm him down. "I knew the police were on their way."

"You knew he had something in mind he was going to do and it would not end well," Husfelt said.

The superintendent said he wanted to protect the school board members, but Duke did not want to talk.

"The good Lord was standing in front of me," said the school chief, adding authorities found two bullet holes behind his desk.

Police have a solid lead on Duke's motive, Becker said, but were not prepared Tuesday night to release it.

The investigation includes Duke's assertions that his wife had been terminated by the school district. Police were talking with Duke's wife, Becker said.

School officials said they were unaware of the significance of the spray painting.

But a Facebook page belonging to a Clay Duke has a profile photo of a "V" in a red circle, a logo that is used in the movie "V for Vendetta."

According to the Internet Movie Database, the 2006 film is about "a shadowy freedom fighter known only as "V" uses terrorist tactics to fight against his totalitarian society. Upon rescuing a girl from the secret police, he also finds his best chance at having an ally."

CNN could not verify if the Facebook page belonged to the gunman, but it does list Duke, 56, as living in Panama City, Florida.

A biography on Duke's Facebook page reads: "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% of the population. Rich Republicans, Rich Democrats... same-same... rich... they take turns fleecing us... our few dollars... pyramiding the wealth for themselves. The 95%... the us, in US of A, are the neo slaves of the Global South. Our Masters, the Wealthy, do, as they like to us..."

Under "political views," Duke labels himself a "Freedom Fighter." Under religious views, he wrote, "Humanism."

Duke, who lived in Lynn Haven, a suburb of Panama City, has a previous record, Becker told CNN.

According to the website of the Florida Department of Corrections, Duke was sentenced in 2000 for aggravated stalking, obstructing justice and throwing or shooting into a vehicle.

According to the Panama City News Herald, after six months of stalking a former girlfriend, Duke confronted the woman outside her home on Oct. 20, 1999. He was wearing the mask and vest and holding two .22-caliber guns. He threatened to kill her, then kill several others and then himself, the newspaper said. When the woman tried to drive away, Duke shot out a rear tire.

The photo of Duke on the corrections page matches the Facebook page.

The News Herald reported that the gunman was taken out of the building on a stretcher. According to Panama City Police Chief John Van Etten, no one other than the suspect was injured, affiliate WJHG said.

School board spokeswoman Karen Tucker said the man "was a large guy" she had seen sitting in the back of the boardroom earlier, according to the News Herald.

Superintendent Husfelt will hold a press conference at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the administration building in Panama City, police said.

CNN affiliate WMBB reported children and parents were at the meeting to be recognized for achievements, but were gone before the incident began.

"We are absolutely in state of shock," said Stafford. "I was in the third floor and we were watching the live feed, and first we thought it was a drill. But the more that you watched it, we realized this was an actual incident and emergency situation."

Duke's Facebook page listed him as a 1972 graduate of King High School in Tampa.

His favorite quotation: "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth," from the movie "A Few Good Men."

From CNN's Vivian Kuo.

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