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Video: School board heroes: ‘Happy to be alive’

  1. Closed captioning of: School board heroes: ‘Happy to be alive’

    >> we are joined now by three of the people who were inside that school board meeting, all of them stepped in to try to stop the gunman. beg good morning to all of you.

    >> good morning, meredith .

    >> i look at that video now several times and i find it frightening and surreal. you people lived it. how are you feeling today, besides just very grateful to be alive?

    >> that's number one. meredith , we are so happy to be alive. life means a lot more than it did yesterday probably and i'm so proud of mike jones , he was the truly the hero and mike jones describes a lot of credit.

    >> mike jones is the security guard who shot this man.

    >> he's not just a security guard , though, he's a retired detective from the police department . he literally saved our lives. if he hadn't have come in when he did, we wouldn't be here this morning.

    >> suddenly this man comes in which nobody knew, he draws that circle with the v in it, and then turns the gun towards you, what is going on in your mind, bill?

    >> first i was concerned that he was upset because we were talking about head lice and technology. but then he turned around with a gun in his hand and he started rambling and telling people to get out. i haven't timed it, but it seemed like a lot longer than it actually was, i'm sure, but it was the most surreal thing i have ever been a part of.

    >> meredith , the gun, excuse me, the gun made a difference. when he turned around from that wall, the whole situation changed. you know, i had dealt with parents in the past as administrator, but never before with a gun. it changed everything.

    >> he told all the women to get out, and ginger, you left and then you made a decision to come back into the room. why? why did you change your mind?

    >> well, i turned back around to check on what was happening and at that point he had moved up on to where the board members were sitting. and so i could either walk away and try to live with myself because i knew something bad was going to happen, or i could try to defend, delay, somehow or other divert, hoping that the cavalry would come soon. my guys had three-ring binderses a and pencils to protect themselves. i thought i would hit him with the purse and see if he would drop the gun. i didn't have a gun. he said you stupid blank. and i thought at that point, i was pretty stupid.

    >> but he pointed a gun at you at that point. did you just assume, this is it?

    >> yes, i did.

    >> i think i did as well. but at that point, there's nothing you can do, i mean i was already committed and probably should have been committed, but there was nothing to be done. so it wasn't terror or anything like that, it was like oh, well, here we are.

    >> she did it because she cares about us. we have got a really good board, we work well together. and she was trying to help us like we were trying to help ourselves.

    >> fortunately he didn't shoot ginger.

    >> yes, that was a very good thing. i appreciated that. it will be nice to see the sun come up this morning.

    >> when ginger was laying on the floor, she attempted something, and the gun, she was laying by me behind the board desk and the gun was right over her and that's when it became very scary.

    >> but after ginger left, what struck me, jerry, about you and bill, is how calm you remained. you basically tried to talk this man off the ledge. you said if your wife lost her job, i'll help her get one. and you said i'll take full responsibility as superintendent, even though you knew this was not going to end well, bill.

    >> yes. he had that look in his eyes and i have seen anger before and he almost had like a grimace, a smile. he had planned to do this and we knew it wasn't going to end well. and i don't say this facetiously, i mean this, if i was going to die, i knew where i was going to go, i was very comfortable knowing that. not wanting that to happen, but i knew i would go to heaven and so i just didn't want to see all the -- i mean that guy had a mission. he had already told us he was going to die. he told us he was going to kill himself basically and he was going to try to do the same to us. and i feel so sorry for his family and what they're going through right now. it's just a terrible tragedy.

    >> meredith , i was talking for my life. i never have been as afraid for my life as i was yesterday. and when i asked him, what are you doing? what's the problem? and he began to tell about his wife. i said look here, man, i'm a pretty good guy. i've been married to my wife 40 years, i was real sincere. i said i've got two great kids, i really don't want to die at this time. and bill and i, we continued to talk with him and just for time's sake, for time's sake. but as time drew closer, we knew that he knew the authorities were coming. and that's when he came closer to the desk and that was when he was beginning to bring the gun up and that's when the dove to the side and all the other board members including bill went down and it's just a miracle this morning that this man sitting to my left, a great friend of mine is here. because he was almost pointblank in the shooting of the gun.

    >> you've got to wonder whether the gunman was just a lousy shot, or maybe he didn't intend to kill you, but his plan was that he was going to be killed by whoever came in?

    >> he continued to say i'm going to die and you are too. he said that several different times.

    >> i will go to my grave believing that those bullets were blocked by a greater power . it's just on to obvious you to me.

    >> our families and friends are so elated. we had e-mails, we had phone calls last night. what a day.

    >> what a day. that's the understatement of the interview. thank you, jerry, bill and ginger, so much, we're so glad that you're with us this morning.

    >> thank you.

    >> thank you so much.

    >> thank you, meredith , you have a great day.

TODAY contributor
updated 12/15/2010 10:29:05 AM ET 2010-12-15T15:29:05

Three Panama City, Fla., school representatives are being lauded after facing a gunman threatening them with death on Tuesday. During their appearance on TODAY Wednesday, Jerry Register, Bill Husfelt and Ginger Littleton said they fully believed they were going to meet their maker.

“We’re so happy to be alive — life means a lot more today than yesterday,” Register, a member of the Bay County School Board, told Meredith Vieira. “I have never been afraid in my life as I was yesterday.”

Shortly after 2 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, 56-year-old Clay Duke stood up during a meeting of the school board while school superintendent Husfelt and board members discussed seemingly banal matters. He spray-painted a large V — similar to the title symbol in the 2006 thriller film “V for Vendetta” — and produced a semi-automatic handgun as he approached the board.

What happened next was graphically caught on camera — an NBC affiliate was taping the meeting, and the school broadcasting system was also streaming the meeting live. Duke told the board his wife had been fired from the school, and that he intended to kill himself and the board along with him.

But what emerged wasn’t a tale of tragedy; instead, the video shows remarkable poise and heroism on the part of Husfelt, Register and school board member Littleton.

After Duke ordered the audience to clear out and released the female school board members, Register calmly told Duke he would do anything to help his wife find another job. Husfelt told Duke he had no idea who his wife was (and later no record showed Duke to actually be married to a school employee), but asked Duke to release the school board members since it was he, as superintendent, who would have signed any termination papers.

Image: Clay Duke
Florida Dept. of Corrections  /  AP
Clay A. Duke opened fire on school board members but missed.

The video also captured a dramatic act of courage by Littleton as she sneaked up behind Clay as his back was turned. “I whacked him with [my] purse, hoping I could get him to drop the gun. Obviously, that did not work. I did not have a plan B,” Littleton told Vieira live via satellite.

‘That look in his eyes’
Husfelt, speaking live via satellite from Florida Wednesday with Register and Littleton, told Vieira he believed Duke fully planned to carry through his threat to kill those he held captive.

Video: School board heroes: ‘Happy to be alive’ (on this page)

“He had that look in his eyes,” Husfelt said. “I’ve seen anger before, and he almost had like a grimace, a smile. He had planned to do this and it wasn’t going to end well.”

Husfelt said he quickly came to terms with facing his own death, but tried to talk Duke into releasing the male school board members from the room. “I don’t mean to say this facetiously, [but] I mean this: If I was going to die, I knew where I was going to go and I was very comfortable knowing that; not wanting that to happen, but I know I would go to heaven. I just didn’t want to see all of us [die].”

NBC News
Gunman Clay Duke spray-painted a ‘V’ on the wall before opening fire.

Register told Vieira he knew he “was talking for my life” in trying to convince Duke he would help him. “I asked him, ‘What are you doing, what’s the problem?’

“He began to tell me about his wife and I said, ‘Look here, man, I’m a pretty good guy, I’ve been married to my wife 40 years,’ ” Husfelt continued. “I was really sincere when I said, ‘I’ve got two great kids. I don’t really want to die at this time.’ Bill and I continued to talk with him, just for time’s sake, for time’s sake. But as time grew closer, we knew he knew the authorities were coming and that’s when he came closer to the desk.”

As the video of the gripping facedown shows, Duke stepped on the dais where Husfelt and the board members were sitting. Littleton is shown re-entering the room behind Duke. With a determined look on her face, she takes her purse and smacks the gunman in the arm.

NBC News
Video captured Ginger Littleton’s attempt to sneak up behind the gunman and disarm him.

It was all for naught; Duke quickly pushed Littleton to the ground as she screamed in terror. But Littleton told Vieira she felt like she had no choice other than to try to save the lives of Husfelt and her fellow school board members.

“He had moved up onto the dais where the board members were sitting, and my guys were lined up like ducks in a pond,” Littleton said. “So I could either walk away and try to live with myself because I knew something bad was going to happen, [or] I could try to defend, delay somehow or another, divert, hoping the cavalry would come soon.”

Video: Video captures gunman’s rage, board’s heroics (on this page)

After Littleton’s attempt to disarm Clay failed, “He said, ‘You stupid blank,’ ” Littleton recounted. “I thought at that point, ‘Probably you’re right.’ I was really stupid.”

Littleton fully believed Duke would shoot her dead after he pushed her to the ground — Husfelt and Register thought so as well. “I was already committed — I probably should have been committed,” she told Vieira ruefully. “So it wasn’t terror or anything like that. It was ‘Oh, well, here we are.’ ”

Ducking for cover
Duke then indeed opened fire on the school board, but somehow managed to not connect with any of his shots as the members ducked under the board desk for cover. As the shooting began, school security officer Mike Jones entered the room and began trading shots with Duke. While an estimated 15 to 20 shots were fired, Duke eventually shot himself during his shoot-out with Jones.

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Husfelt credited Jones, a retired police detective, for being the true hero in the horrifying ordeal. “He literally saved our lives,” he told Vieira. “If he hadn’t come in when he did, we wouldn’t be here with each other this morning.”

While the standoff ended with no one other than Duke being shot, Vieira told the trio she still wonders how Husfelt and the school board members managed to avoid being shot as Duke fired on them point-blank.

“You’ve got to wonder whether the gunman was just a lousy shot or if he didn’t really intend to kill you, that the whole idea was that he was going to be killed by whoever came in,” Vieira said.

Husfelt replied, “I will go to my grave believing that those bullets were blocked by a greater power. It is just obvious to me.”

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