Florida shooter's wife says husband 'misunderstood'

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — The wife of the man who held a Florida school board at gunpoint said Wednesday that her husband was a gentle giant who was pushed over the edge by the economy and frustrated over her losing her teaching job.

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Members of the Bay District School Board share a brief prayer prior to a press conference on Wednesday in Panama City, Fla. They scheduled the meeting with reporters to discuss the events of the Tuesday regular meeting of the board where the men of the board were held hostage by gunman Clay Duke.

“He wanted to get me an answer,” Rebecca Duke said a day after her husband, Clay Duke, killed himself. He shot at school board members in Panama City, missing some of them by mere inches, before he exchanged gunfire with a security guard. As he lay on the floor in the boardroom, he shot himself to death in the head.

“The economy and the world just got the better of him,” Rebecca Duke said in a rambling press conference to talk about the man she loved.

Police said Clay Duke was a 56-year-old ex-convict who had circled Dec. 14 on a calendar in a mobile home he kept in the woods, evidence he had been planning the attack for some time.

Bay District officials confirmed his wife had been fired earlier this year from her job teaching special education. Video of Tuesday’s meeting showed Duke, 56, complaining about taxes and his wife being fired before shooting at close range as the superintendent begged, “Please don’t.”

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 was obviously was not happy with our government,” Van Etten 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.

“It could have been a monumental tragedy,” Superintendent Bill Husfelt said. “God was standing in front of me and I will go to my grave believing that.”

Video shows Duke rising from his seat, spray-painting a red V on the wall, then waving a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun and ordering everyone to leave the room except the men on the 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 also 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 totalitarian government.

The school board was in the midst of a routine discussion when Duke walked to the front of the room.

“We could tell by the look in his eyes that this wasn’t going to end well,” Husfelt told the AP.

After several minutes, video showed Duke slowly raising the gun and leveling it at Husfelt, who pleaded “Please don’t, please don’t.”

Duke shot twice at Husfelt 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 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 in the clash that lasted several minutes. Husfelt said at least two rounds lodged in the wall behind him.

In Duke’s brief exchange with the board, he said his wife had been fired from the northern Florida district, but never told 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. Husfelt told Duke he didn’t remember his wife but would have be responsible for her dismissal, so the board members should be allowed to leave.

“He said his wife was fired, but we really don’t know what he was talking about,” Husfelt told the AP on Tuesday at his Panama City home.

Duke’s wife was apparently living with her mother in nearby Lynn Haven. It wasn’t clear how long they were living apart, the chief said.

Tommye Lou Richardson, the district’s personnel director, said Rebecca Crowder-Duke was fired from her job as a teacher in February. She had been hired in September 2009 as a primary school teacher for students with special needs but didn’t pass her probation. She wasn’t able to go into further detail on the reasons.

Crowder-Duke was concerned about her loss of employment, but Richardson said she wouldn’t describe her as angry. She hadn’t heard from Crowder-Duke since, and wasn’t aware until after the shooting that Clay Duke was her husband.

“There were no confrontations,” she said. “There were no indications of anything as tragic as this.”

Richardson called Jones a hero. As Duke lay on the floor, colleagues comforted the shaken man, who said he had never shot anyone before.

SWAT officers then stormed the room and ordered everyone onto the ground. School officials told them that Duke was shot and appeared dead. His feet could be seen near the board’s seats.

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