Gunshot at Georgia school sparks debate on arming teachers

Updated February 28, 2018 - 9:22 pm

ATLANTA — When a gunshot was fired from a classroom in the north Georgia mountains and police identified the gunman as a teacher, it immediately pierced the national debate over whether educators should be armed.

Hours after police arrested Dalton High School social studies teacher Jesse Randal Davidson on Wednesday, students from the school took to social media.

“My favorite teacher at Dalton high school just blockaded his door and proceeded to shoot. We had to run out the back of the school in the rain. Students were being trampled and screaming,” student Chondi Chastain wrote in a tweet shared thousands of times within hours.

“I dare you to tell me arming teachers will make us safe,” she wrote.

In an interview, Chastain said she was supposed to have Davidson’s class at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, just three hours after the shooting.

Davidson, 53, is accused of barricading himself inside a classroom and firing a handgun, sending students running outside or hunkering down in a darkened gym locker, authorities said.

No students were in the classroom when the teacher fired the weapon, and despite the chaotic lockdown and evacuation, the only injury was a student who hurt her ankle running away.

Motive is a mystery

The reason remained a mystery late Wednesday.

“Mr. Davidson did not give us much information about what his motives were or what may or may not have been the problem today,” Dalton police spokesman Bruce Frazier said Wednesday evening, after detectives had interviewed the teacher.

The gunfire erupted with a nation on edge two weeks after a Florida school shooting left 17 students and faculty dead and ignited a new debate over gun control in America. President Donald Trump, who has advocated for arming teachers, convened a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House to address gun violence on Wednesday afternoon.

Davidson himself had commented that arming teachers was a bad idea, Chastain said in an interview after sending her tweet.

“I feel like there just shouldn’t be guns at school at all,” she told The Associated Press. “It’s our basic student right to feel safe at school and if (teachers were armed), I wouldn’t feel safe.”

“You never know what’s going to cause someone to break and maybe it will be a student who gets hurt next time,” she added.

Davidson was taken into custody without incident after a 30- to 45-minute standoff with officers, Frazier said. A teacher since 2004, Davidson also serves as the play-by-play announcer for the Dalton High Catamounts football team, which has a storied past as one of the best high school football programs in Georgia history.

Police noted that Davidson didn’t appear to want to hurt the students or faculty. He fired the gun at an exterior window when the principal tried to enter the classroom.

“I don’t know whether he was just firing the gun off to let people know to back off or what,” Frazier said.

However, the gunshot traveled into a hilltop neighborhood across the street from the high school campus, which overlooks part of the city, and could have struck a home or a passer-by, Frazier said.

History of odd behavior

Twice in recent years, Dalton police say they encountered the teacher exhibiting odd behavior and wrote in one report that he “may be delusional.”

Davidson had walked into the police department and told a rambling story about thinking a murder had occurred, police wrote in a 2016 report. But police said they investigated and were not able to verify that any of the information was true. Police said that after their interview of Davidson, he was taken to a hospital “based on him thinking about hurting himself.”

Police said in another report last year that officers found Davidson during a school day sitting on the curb of a street, conscious but unresponsive and being held up by two school staff members. He was again taken to a hospital.

Both police reports were posted late Wednesday by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Wednesday’s gunfire happened about 11:30 a.m. during Davidson’s planning period. At first, students tried to get into the classroom, but they couldn’t. The students told the principal, who tried to enter.

“I didn’t get the door open very far, but he slammed the door and hollered ‘Go away, don’t come in here.’ He had some nonsensical noises that were made as well,” Principal Steve Bartoo said.

Bartoo returned a short time later and put his key in the door “and again he slammed the door before I could open it and he said, ‘Don’t come in here, I have a gun.’”

That’s when Davidson fired and the school was placed on lockdown, authorities said.

Davidson faces six charges, including aggravated assault involving a gun and terroristic threats and acts, jail records showed. Other charges include carrying a weapon in a school safety zone and reckless conduct. It’s not clear if he has an attorney.

Students react

Student Emma Jacobs texted her mother while she hid inside a darkened classroom, said her mother, Annmarie Jacobs. Emma, a junior, said in texts that her teacher had turned the lights off and told the students to sit in a corner.

“omg she’s putting desk in front of the door,” Jacobs texted to her mom.

Nathangel Lopez hunkered down with students and teachers in a gym locker room. While there, he tweeted a photo of teens sitting on benches and called for more gun control.

“This shouldn’t happen to us,” he wrote. “I hope a lawmaker somewhere will do something.”

When he found out that a teacher was involved, he shifted his stance on arming educators.

“At first, I was thinking that that might have been a good idea. I am now totally against it,” he said.

Several students said on social media they were outraged that some on Twitter questioned whether the incident was staged.

Davidson was described as laid back and smart. In 2012, he was recognized as the school’s top teacher, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. He moved to Dalton in 1995 and became sports and news director at WBLJ-AM radio.

“It was always about the students. He really wanted the students to understand the concept,” said 18-year-old senior Rowdy Zeisig.

The principal said Davidson was an “excellent teacher” who was well thought of, and “as far as I know he was fit to be at work.”

Dalton High, about 90 miles northwest of Atlanta, has about 2,000 students. Dalton is known as the Carpet Capital of the World, since much of the carpet for U.S. and world markets is produced within a 25-mile radius of the city.

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