December 15, 2010 / 7:43 PM / 9 years ago

Florida school officials search for answers on shooting

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Members of a Florida school board were searching for answers on Wednesday as to why a 56-year-old ex-convict opened fire on them before killing himself at an otherwise routine meeting.

Speaking to reporters during multiple interviews, school officials from the Bay County Public School District said they were still puzzled about the Tuesday afternoon incident in Panama City.

They were held hostage at gunpoint before scrambling for their lives amid a hail of gunfire that ended in the death of shooter Clay Duke. No one else was injured in the incident, video of which has gone viral on the Internet.

“It was surreal, “school superintendent Bill Husfelt said on Wednesday. “We’re talking about technology and head lice and the next thing we know this guy’s got a gun to our face. There is nothing you can do to prepare for that.”

Video of the incident shows Duke walking up to a podium and spray painting a large “V” with a circle around it on a wall in the hearing room before pulling out a 9 millimeter pistol. He then ordered women and all visitors to leave the room but held the six male members of the board hostage for eight tense minutes.

At one point, board member Ginger Littleton sneaked back into the room behind Duke and hit him with her purse in an attempt to dislodge the gun. That failed and Duke pushed Littleton down, trained the gun at her but didn’t shoot.

“My plan ‘A’ was to try to get the gun away from him,” Littleton said on Wednesday. “Because I’m not smarter than the average bear, I didn’t have a plan ‘B.’”

In the exchange with his captives Duke made rambling comments about taxes and his wife being fired by the Bay County School District, located in north Florida’s panhandle about 100 miles west of Tallahassee, the state capital.

Board members asked who his wife was and promised to help her find a new job. Duke just shook his head before taking several shots from close range as members scrambled for cover.

Responding to the sound of gunshots, school district security chief Mike Jones, a former police officer, stormed into the room and exchanged gunfire with Duke, wounding him in the leg before Duke turned his own gun on himself.

Duke was convicted in January 2000 of aggravated stalking, shooting or throwing a missile into a building or vehicle and obstructing justice, according to state department of correction records. He was sentenced to five years in prison and released in January 2004.

Editing by Jerry Norton

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