Lynn Guilliams says she went into “teacher mode” on Thursday when she disarmed a 6th-grade student who fired a gun inside a classroom at Fuquay-Varina Middle School.
In an interview Friday with The News & Observer, Guilliams says she knew she had no choice but to confront the armed student. She and Paige Elliott, an assistant principal, have been praised by the Wake County school system for their efforts in defusing what could have been an eve more tragic situation,
“I just knew I had to take it,” Guilliams said. “He’s a 6th-grader. He shouldn’t have that. I had to take it.’
The sixth-grade language arts teacher was helping students at their lockers around 8 a.m. Thursday when two teachers came running toward her yelling “code red, clear the hallway.” School doesn’t officially start until 8:15 a.m., so some students who had arrived early were hanging out with their friends in their homeroom.
Guilliams swept the students near her into her classroom and told them to crouch away from the windows as she locked the door. She tried to reassure students who were in fear over the lockdown.
“I’m their mom at school,” Guilliams said. “They want to know they’re safe, that I know what’s going on and I’m in charge.”
‘Give it to me’
The veteran teacher said she noticed something was odd when one student remained at his desk instead of crouching with his classmates. Guilliams said she was in disbelief when that sixth-grader showed her the gun.
“I told him that he was going to give it to me,” Guillams said. “I walked over. He did not threaten me He didn’t point it at me. He did not resist me. “
Guillams asked the student why she smelled gunpowder. The student motioned to the window, revealing to her that he had fired a shot through it. No one was physically injured by the shot.
Guilliams called Elliott, the assistant principal, and told the gun was then in Guilliams’ possession. Guilliams told the student who had fired the gun to stay while she ushered the other students back into the hallway.
Teachers are told to keep doors locked during a code red so Guilliams loudly yelled that everything was OK and that she the gun. Another teacher opened their own classroom door so that the students from Guilliams’ classroom could go there.
Guilliams returned to her classroom to stay with the student. Elliott then arrived and took the weapon.
Elliott did not respond to an email Friday from The News & Observer requesting comment.
Comforting the student
Guilliams said she stayed with the student for nearly two hours as she tried to comfort him. Another administrator and a guidance counselor arrived and the were with the student even after Fuquay-Varina Police arrived.
She praised the police officers, who she said were compassionate, patient and non-threatening as they dealt with the student.
Before the student was escorted from the school, Guilliams said she hugged him, told him that she loved him and was worried about him
“Our goal was to make him feel safe and to feel cared for,” Guilliams said. “We told him we were not mad at him. We focused on the fact that he was safe and cared for because I believe it was a cry for help.”
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Since the incident, current and former students and parents have reached out to her to thank her. They also told her that she shouldn’t have to be put in that situation.
Guilliams says what shows how caring a community Fuquay-Varina is that people aren’t showing anger to the student who fired the gun.
“Most of the parents I’ve been in communication with are praying and sending wishes to the student, hoping he will get the help that he needs,” she said.
The Wake County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday night that it had obtained a secure custody order for a 12-year-old student at the school. The student had been served with a juvenile petition.
Seth Lanterman-Schneider, 39, of Willow Spring, is charged with selling/giving a weapon to a minor, which is a misdemeanor, according to the sheriff’s office.
‘We’re the first line of defense’
Guilliams said schools have become less safe since she started teaching in 1989. That’s why she said she went into “teacher mode” when she saw the gun.
“This is unfortunately something teachers think about on a regular basis,” Guilliams said. “We see violence in the news way too often. We’re the first line of defense.”
Some of her friends have left teaching because of growing fears about school shootings. Guilliams said that when her own children attended school they became frightened during lockdowns because they knew teachers could be the first to get hurt.
“The thoughts usually are if I’m not there for students, who’s going to be?” Guilliams said. “That’s what teachers say. We put up with unacceptable behavior from society, from politicians on both sides of the aisle, from taxpayers, because we love our students. Bcause if we’re not they’re, who’s going to be? That angers us, but that’s why we show up everyday.”
Guilliams blames part of the problem on not enough funding for education.
“Children are struggling and, in my opinion, as a society we need to do better,” Guilliams said. “Taxpayers need to do better. The average taxpayer doesn’t understand what the budget cuts over the last 20 years have done.
“Parents romanticize school. It’s not like what they had. We don’t have the resources. As communities and society fracture, we need more, not less.”
Supportive staff and students
Classes were canceled Friday at the school to give the students, parents and staff time to process what happened. But the incident will have a lasting impact.
“The rest of the students were absolutely amazing and they’re 11- and 12-years-old, mostly 11-year-olds,” Guilliams said. “They lost a lot of their innocence yesterday, but most of them held it together. They comforted each other. They repeatedly asked me if I was OK.”
Guilliams was able to briefly put the incident aside Friday as she attended her son’s graduation from UNC-Greensboro. But she says she’s now “living minute to minute” and isn’t sure she will return to the classroom on Monday.
“Mr. Clark (the school’s principal) and the rest of the staff at Fuquay are unbelievably supportive and asked me to do what’s best for me. I just haven’t decided what that will be yet.”