Fla. Shooter's Wife Says Husband 'Misunderstood'

Clay Duke (CBS/Florida Dept. of Corrections)

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.

"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."

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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.

Husfelt was calm as he tried to persuade Duke to drop the gun, but Duke just shook his head. The only woman on the board, Ginger Littleton, had been ordered out of the room too, but she sneaked back in behind him and whacked his gun arm with her large brown purse.

"In my mind, that was the last attempt or opportunity to divert him," Littleton said.

Duke, a large, heavyset man in a dark pullover coat got angry and turned around. She fell to the floor as board members pleaded with her to stop. Duke pointed the gun at her head and said, "You stupid b----" but he didn't shoot her. She's not sure why.

She joked during a Wednesday press conference that her three daughters asked "'Are you just stupid? What were you thinking?' I don't have an answer for that."

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.

Richardson said Crowder-Duke had indicated that she felt like there was a violation of her employment rights, but she never filed a lawsuit.

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."

Video of the meeting shows Husfelt telling Duke: "I've got a feeling you want the cops to come in and kill you because you said you are going to die today." Later, the head of more than 30 schools in the district that includes the beach tourism and Air Force town of Panama City said he was sure someone was going to be killed.

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.

"I'm telling you, Mike saved our lives," said Husfelt told CBS News. "If he hadn't did what he did when he did it. Many of us would not be here today."

People gathered at the home of Duke's wife Tuesday night asked reporters to leave.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports that Duke left a foreboding message on his Facebook account: "Some people (the government sponsored media) will say I was evil, a monster."

His Facebook profile picture is the red V symbol he spray-painted on the wall during the meeting, and his page includes photos from the film version "V for Vendetta," which was also a graphic novel.

He quotes billionaire Warren Buffett, who told the New York Times in 2006: "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class that's making war and we're winning."

Duke was charged in October 1999 with aggravated stalking, shooting or throwing a missile into a building or vehicle and obstructing justice, according to state records. He was convicted and sentenced in January 2000 to five years in prison and was released in January 2004. Records show Duke was a licensed massage therapist before his arrest but it wasn't clear if he was employed.

Attorney Ben Bollinger, who represented Duke during his trial, said Duke was waiting in the woods for his ex-wife with a rifle, wearing a mask and a bulletproof vest. She confronted him and then tried to leave in a vehicle, and Duke shot the tires.

Bollinger said as part of Duke's sentence, he was required to complete psychological counseling.
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