JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A teacher fired from a private school in Florida on Tuesday returned to the campus with a gun hidden in a guitar case and shot the headmistress to death before committing suicide while school was in session, authorities said.
No students were hurt.
Officers responded to the Episcopal School of Jacksonville at 1:23 p.m. Tuesday after receiving reports of a person with a gun, and the school was placed on lockdown. When officers arrived, Dale Regan, head of the school, and the gunman were found dead, Undersheriff Dwain Senterfitt said.
When the lockdown began Tuesday afternoon, many students didn't immediately know it was a real emergency.
"We were in class and the bell rang, but it wasn't time for class to end," ninth-grader Gracie Hamilton said. "Then it rang again, like a lockdown alert. At first, no one was worried, because we always have lockdown drills. But then you could tell our teacher was worried, and she locked the doors and turned off the lights. And it was time to really keep quiet."
After a short time, Hamilton said students began receiving text messages from friends saying there had been shots fired.
"I was like, oh my gosh," Hamilton said. "Everybody was worried."
The sheriff's office identified the gunman as 28-year-old Shane Schumerth. He was a graduate of Purdue University and taught Spanish, according to a 2010 press release from the school announcing he had been hired.
A man who answered the phone at a listing for Schumerth's family declined to comment.
A vigil Tuesday evening for the slain headmistress drew about 100 people, and many hugged each other as they remembered Regan.
One student who attended a vigil for Regan at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Tuesday night said many students didn't like Schumerth's teaching style.
"He didn't tell us stuff that we needed to know. It was a Spanish class, but it wasn't like Spanish ever. We had a test recently, and he gave us the answers," ninth-grader Madeline Franson said.
One of those who knew Regan said the state had lost an impassioned educator.
"Today we have truly lost a great educator and an advocate for all children," said Barbara Hodges, executive director of the Florida Council of Independent Schools.
Regan worked at the Episcopal School for more than 30 years, starting as a teacher and going on to become the first female to hold the school's top position. Hodges said she focused on high academic standards but also valued strong relationships with students and teachers.
"She truly focused on the whole being, the whole child," Hodges said.
Recently, Regan had opened two academic halls with new technology, designed to foster innovation in teaching. They were the first new classrooms since the school's founding.
Hodges recalled walking through the new rooms with Regan just before they were opened last year.
"You could see that she was dreaming about all the incredible programs that would happen in that building and how that would impact the lives of students," Hodges said. Hodges had visited Regan just two weeks ago and was exchanging emails with her Tuesday morning. Regan was president of the Florida Council of Independent Schools board, and they were discussing their upcoming meeting and planning new programming.
"There was nothing that indicated anything was amiss," Hodges said.
The school said in a statement it would provide counseling to students and faculty.
"I would hope the parents hug their children, pray for their children, pray for Dale, pray for the man who was so distraught that he committed this terrible act of violence," said the Rev. Kate Moorehead, dean of the Episcopal Cathedral and vice president of the school's board.