Panama City - While NewsChannel 7 cameras rolled, a man used a pistol to take hostages at Tuesday's Bay County School Board meeting in the Nelson building off Balboa Avenue in Panama City.
Starting a little after 2 p.m. 56-year-old Clay Duke used a can of red spray paint to paint a large "V" with a circle around it on the wall, then pulled out a gun and addressed the school board briefly, talking about his wife being fired. Duke then ordered the women and children from the room, taking the others hostage.
Tensions built while Duke questioned the school board, and told the group that "Somebody is going to die today."
WJHG's video footage shows Duke as he began firing, and Mike Jones, a security officer and the man best known locally as "Salvage Santa" for his work fixing up bikes for underprivileged children, burst in, returning fire and hitting Jones twice. With one of his last bullets in the gun's magazine, Duke shot himself in the head.
School Board Superintendent Bill Husfelt says that the gunman had "almost a smile" on his face, and seemed determined that he was going to die before he ever started shooting.
Duke used a 9 mm Swith & Wesson pistol he bought in 1985 before he became a convicted felon during the attack. He fired shots at school board members, before trading shots with Mike Jones, who serves as security for the Bay County School District. Jones is a retired Detective with the Panama City Police force, a man who Husfelt calls "a hero." In all, between 15 and 20 shots were fired.
Jones was taken to the hospital after the incident, though he was not shot in the altercation. He wasn't the only one to take Duke on directly. As can be seen in WJHG's footage, School Board member Ginger Littleton snuck up behind Duke, and tried to knock the gun from his hand with her purse.
Authorities shut down the streets in the area of the Nelson building, and police detained witnesses to take their statements.
It was originally thought that Duke may have been firing blanks, but according to Panama City Police Cheif John Van Etten, he was firing live rounds. Inspecting the crime scene on Wednesday, witnesses found a room riddled with bullet holes, including in the door where Jones entered, and in the wall behind school board members. Fortunately, no one other than the suspect was injured.
Duke was carrying an extra box of ammunition with 50-bullets, and had an extra magazine for his 9 mm in his pocket. After the shooting, Duke was ttaken to an area hospital with multiple gun shot wounds, but witnesses on the scene are report that he died from his wounds before being taken away.
When police executed a search of Duke's home in Alford, Florida, they collected several pieces of evidence, including a pirated DVD of the movie "V for Vendetta," and a calendar with the circled letter "V" marked on December 14th. The symbol is the same mark Duke painted on the school board wall, and was also used by the character in the movie "V for Vendetta." Police also collected references to military tactical books and anti-governemnt statements from the home.
On December 9, Duke posted a sort of manifesto on his Facebook page, quoting from the movie "V for Vendetta." Here is what the gunman had to say:
"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…"
Duke also used pictures from the movie, "V for Vendetta" in several places on his Facebook page, including the circled "V" that he painted on the school board wall.
The gunman's criminal record dates back to 1999, when he was charged a first degree felony for shooting at his former wife while she was in a car, and he was wearing a mask and a bullet proof vest. He was sentenced to 60-months in prison, plus 10-years probation, but served only 85-percent of his sentence and was released from probation in February. His current wife says Duke served 8 years in the air force, but was not unemployed and upset that his wife's contract as a teacher's aide had not been renewed.
Duke indicates that he was a graduate of ASU, and King High School, in Tampa, Florida. Duke's family has told police that they were completely taken by surprise by his actions. Members of the Bay District School Board have confirmed that Duke's wife, Rebecca Crowder-Duke was let go in February. She was hired in 2009 but did not pass her probation period.