A Gunman Holds 6 Panama City School Board Members HostageThe day of the Panama City school board meeting, eleven days before Christmas, Chief Jones had taken a vacation day. He had undergone a dental procedure that morning and planned to make toys and bikes the rest of the day for his charity (Salvage Santa) that gives to kids in need. He had some items on the agenda for the school board meeting, which Superintendent Bill Husfelt was going to cover in his absence. In regard to those items, staff members called Chief Jones a few times to ask about the details. After the third call, Chief Jones decided to go ahead and attend the board meeting, which was already underway. Once there, as he was walking to the elevator, a woman who had been in the board meeting called his cell and said, “There’s a guy in the meeting with a gun.” Instead of waiting for the elevator, Chief Jones used the stairwell, which landed at the meeting room doors, four floors down. He looked through the crack between the double doors and saw a guy waving a gun around, pacing and talking. Before Chief Jones arrived, a news crew was in attendance, as was customary, and kept the camera rolling. Viewers could see the whole thing play out live, as the shooter vacated the room of everyone except the six board members, who had a 9mm semiautomatic handgun pointed at them. The shooter paced with the gun in front of the raised panel of desks where they were sitting and explained why he was there – his wife, an English teacher, was fired and their benefits were running out. Superintendent Husfelt tried to reason with him, telling him he would help his wife find another job and that it wasn’t worth what he was doing. The shooter said, “Some of you are going to die today, but I’m going to die too.” What happened next happened in roughly four minutes.
How Chief Jones Stopped the ShooterChief Jones recalls, “I opened one of the double doors, but didn’t enter the room, and kept my hand that was holding the gun behind the other closed door where he couldn’t see it. I was trying to draw his attention to me or get him to come toward me out in the hall so the board members could run out the back door.”
The shooter saw me and made some comment about me being a policeman and I downplayed it, telling him I was just a security guard. He started walking toward me and I closed the door, thinking, this is it – we’re going to have a shootout.“I shouted at everyone in the hall to get out of there and get to safety, thinking he was coming for me, but when I looked through the crack between the double doors again, he had gone back to harassing my friends and colleagues. I could see and hear him talking to the superintendent when, suddenly, he brought the gun straight up and aimed it at Husfelt’s face, point-blank. “I swung the door open just as the shooter took the first shot at Husfelt, who crossed his arms over his chest and said, ‘Please, don’t,’ while the gunman fired. The bullet hit the desk and ricocheted into a six- inch-thick notebook on the desk in front of Husfelt, who dropped to the floor. I thought he was dead. “My training took over and I took my first shot, hitting the shooter in the lower back. He turned and fired another bullet, which went into the floor, and I took my second shot, which went through his side. Then he fired again as he spun around from the impact of the side shot, and I shot him in the pelvis, which knocked his legs out from under him and he fell to the floor. “I thought he was dead and started to walk toward him. As I did, he raised his arm and unloaded his weapon at me. I dove to the floor, crawled into the aisle, and rolled to safety. He fired a couple more times from the floor, then turned the gun on himself.”
More Gunmen Rush in After Shooter is DeadChief Jones recalled, “In all the training in 44 years of being a cop, they always said in an active shooter situation, you’d have nothing but tunnel vision and see nothing but the shooter. That you wouldn’t hear anything, not even the shots. And that’s exactly what it was like. I didn’t see anything else, didn’t hear the rounds being fired, I was just so focused on what I was supposed to be doing. Afterward, the adrenaline kicked in and my heart rate went sky high. I dropped to my knees and felt like I had just run a marathon. I was so out of breath and so tired.” The whole incident, from the start from the board meeting to the last shot, lasted roughly six minutes. Chief Jones said the four or so minutes he was involved felt like hours. He shared what happened next. “About two minutes after it was over, a large group of men came running into the room with automatic weapons shouting for everyone to ‘get down!’, getting everyone all worked up again. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was the police. I told them who I was and that it was over. That’s when I really collapsed. I ended up in the hospital with a near heart attack. They had to put me to sleep to save my life.” Chief Jones feels that if the SchoolGuard active shooter mobile safety alert system with the Hero911® network would’ve been an option back then, law enforcement’s response would’ve been different. He explained, “There was so much chaos and people pouring out of the building, officers didn’t know who the shooter was and if he was still in the building until they heard the shootout. They couldn’t get in to do what they needed to do. With an active shooter app, they would’ve known where he was, and the communication would’ve been better.”
A Forensic Analysis Revealed a MiracleChief Jones then revealed a goose bump-inspiring discovery. “It’s by the grace of God that I survived. Days later, we took the picture of the holes in the wall and superimposed my photo where I was standing when he shot at me, and the bullet holes were in a perfect halo around me. From my left elbow to my shoulder, top of my head, right ear, right arm, and past my right arm was the sixth shot. It felt like a miracle that I was alive. I credit God for saving me.” He said, “This event changed my life in many ways. I have not been hunting since that day. I quit teaching gun classes for about six years. I don’t want to kill anything that’s not trying to kill me first. I didn’t feel it was right. The very first interview I gave, the morning after I got home from the hospital, I told the reporter, ‘a lot of people are going to say bad things about him, and about me, but what I want everyone to remember is that he was somebody’s father, husband, and son – he was a human being.’ What I did was in the line of duty and I felt terrible about it. It is not an easy thing to take a life. Even though he killed himself, I felt responsible.” After the shooting, he was emotionally troubled. “I’m a Christian man and was certain I wasn’t going to heaven for killing the shooter. I had to get right with God and make sure I did everything I was supposed to do.
I’m known in my community as Salvage Santa, for the little toy program that I’ve got. I’m Santa Claus, and I’ve taken a man’s life … what would my fellow parishioners think? My counselor helped me make sense of it – if I hadn’t shot him, others would be dead, including me.”
Full-size Police Department & SchoolGuard Now Protect Bay District SchoolsToday, Chief Jones is still Chief of Security & Police for Bay District Schools, but instead of just him as a safety and security officer, he now has 25 full-time officers, 13 contracted and armed SSOs (School Safety Officers), and six civilians in his department who watch over thirty-one K-12 schools. It’s a full-size police department – all because of this active shooter incident. Additionally, the school district implemented many other safety and security measures, including SchoolGuard in 2017. They haven’t had to use it yet, but they did set it off by accident one day and Chief Jones said, “We had cops coming from everywhere, almost instantly, so we know that it works. We love it and hope to be able to keep it as Alyssa’s Law goes into effect.” His advice to school districts that don’t have an active shooter mobile safety alert system is to get one.
Having been through an active shooter situation, as soon as SchoolGuard® with the Hero911® network was available, we knew we had to have it. It’s the best system out there.”