Investigators have identified the teen they say died after opening fire at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, Maryland Tuesday morning in an incident that left two students injured.
St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron said 17-year-old Austin Wyatt Rollins was fatally shot after a school resource officer assigned to the school responded. Rollins died at around 10:40 a.m. at the hospital, police say.
Sheriff Cameron said the incident began just before 8 a.m., as classes were about to start. He said Rollins, a student at the school, used a Glock semiautomatic handgun to open fire at a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, who are also students, in Hallway F of the school.
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER CREDITED WITH STOPPING SHOOTER
Sheriff Cameron said the school resource officer, Deputy 1st Class Blaine Gaskill, responded immediately and engaged the shooter. Deputy Gaskill opened fire on the shooter, and almost simultaneously, Sheriff Cameron said, the gunman fired his gun. It is not clear if Rollins was hit by the deputy’s bullet, or if he died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but Cameron said the investigation will reveal that.
Sheriff Cameron told reporters at an afternoon press briefing that Deputy Gaskill, a six-year veteran of the force who is in his first year at Great Mills High School, was able to contain the situation within 1 minute of the time the initial shot was fired. He is being called a hero, as his actions likely saved many lives.
“This is what we train for, this is what we prepare for, and this is what we pray that we never have to do. And on this day, we realize our worst nightmare– that our greatest asset, our children, were attacked,” Sheriff Cameron said.
TWO STUDENTS INJURED, GUNMAN DEAD
According to investigators, the 16-year-old female student who was injured is listed in critical condition. She is currently in ICU with life-threatening injuries at University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center.
FOX 5 has learned her name is Jaelynn Willey. Her family tells us she is the oldest of nine children, and is a member of the Great Mills High swim team. There has been an outpouring of support for Willey online. A YouCaring fundraising page created for her family had already raised nearly $20,000 by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The male student was shot in the thigh, and is listed in good condition at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, hospital officials said. Police say they are investigating to determine if the bullet that struck the boy was fired by the gunman or the deputy.
While a motive in the shooting cannot yet be confirmed, Sheriff Cameron said the initial investigation indicated that there was a prior relationship between the shooter and the 16-year-old girl who was shot. Deputies are still working to determine the extent of that relationship, while also reviewing the shooter’s electronic devices and all aspects of social media as part of the investigation.
Deputies say there is school security video that shows the incident, and investigators will be reviewing it as part of their investigation.
STUDENTS, PARENTS REUNITE
Shortly after the shooting was reported, school officials placed the school on lockdown. As the scary moments unfolded, parent Maria Sanchez Sokolowski exchanged text messages with her daughter Trinity, a student at Great Mills Sokolowski tried to calm her daughter and they exchange “I love you’s.”
Nearly 1,400 students were eventually evacuated from the school. They were then taken by bus to nearby Leonardtown High School, where parents and guardians were instructed to pick them up. FOX 5’s Paul Wagner reports parents were extremely emotional upon reuniting with their children.
Officials said the school would be closed on Wednesday.
STUDENTS DESCRIBE THE SCENE
As the news of the shooting began to spread Tuesday morning, FOX 5 spoke with a student named Shaovon, who is a senior at Great Mills High School, by phone. Shaovon said she never made it into school before learning something had happened. She was getting out of her car when other students came running from the school building, screaming and yelling.
Shaovon says she immediately got back into her car and called her mom, and another student told her that there had been a shooting. She went straight home, she says.
“I was just shaking. I didn’t know how to react to that,” Shaovon told FOX 5. “It’s just crazy that it’s happening in our own neighborhood– in the town where we grew up. It’s just crazy to me.”
Shaovon was emotional when talking about her school and her principal, explaining that they’re like family. It’s just not acceptable,” she said of the shooting.
She also told FOX 5 she thinks gun control is needed to stop the shootings taking place at schools around the country– and now at her school.
“We really need gun control because this is just not acceptable for us,” Shaovon told FOX 5.
Tyriq Wheeler, an 11th grade student who had taken part in a protest for the school shooting in Parkland just the week before, said he heard the gunshot inside the school.
“I was talking to my gym teacher, Mr. Griff, and I started walking down the hallway to get to class. And usually there is a whole bunch of group of people in the usual spot, but nobody was there. So that was kind of out of character,” he said. “And then as I look down, I heard a loud bang, and everybody started running. So I was confused. So I just went straight to my classroom.
“We got in the classroom, they locked the door, and as we were sitting in the classroom, everybody was trying to remain calm, but it was kind of hard because of what we just heard. And that’s when the police officers came in there, made sure nobody else had a weapon. And they was checking every single room until we got in the cafeteria. I tried to call, but I wasn’t able to get through at first. So when they brought us to the tech center, I was able to use their phone and call my grandmother. And she let me know that they were already on their way.”
Another Great Mills student named Dasani told FOX 5 by phone Tuesday morning that she heard the sound of a couple of “pops” when she arrived at school, and didn’t think much of it until she saw other students running to the exit. Dasani said she saw walked into the school, where she saw a boy she believed to be the gunman with a gun to his head– and then she ran outside.
In light of the school shootings that have been taking place all across the country, including the shooting that claimed 17 lives at Marjory-Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida on Feb. 14, Dasani told FOX 5 she and her classmates have been calling for change.
“We have wanted a change, and even in my English class we were writing an essay which was actually due today on safety measures to decrease or completely end school shootings,” Dasani said.
Dasani said she thinks metal detectors and stronger presence of armed security guards, rather than armed teachers, would be a good way to address the problem.
Later, FOX 5’s Melanie Alnwick spoke to a student who had just learned she knew one of the victims, and was visibly shaken.
“I didn’t believe that something like this would happen near me, in real life,” she said.
GOVERNOR HOGAN: WE NEED MORE THAN PRAYERS
Tuesday’s shooting comes as the nation is still reeling from the Florida shooting. Politicians were quick to respond to yet another school shooting, calling for action against gun violence.
While Hogan praised the school resource officer’s quick response, he also slammed Maryland legislators for not taking quicker action to protect students at school. Last month, Hogan pledged emergency legislation in the form of a $125 million commitment for capital improvements to make Maryland’s schools safer from violence like school shootings and added another $50 million annually to pay for school resource officers, counselors and technology, but legislators have not yet taken action– something Hogan said Tuesday is “outrageous.”
“No parent should have to worry about when they send their kids off in the morning to school whether they are going to come home safely or not,” said Gov. Hogan. “And we need more than prayers.”
St. Mary’s County Schools Superintendent Dr. James Scott Smith said there have been two community conversations about school safety since the Florida shooting, and metal detectors have been among the topics discussed. He said schools in the county don’t currently have metal detectors, and pointed out there is a cost involved to add the equipment and the staff necessary to put them in place.
Dr. Smith called what happened Tuesday at Great Mills High School his community’s worst fear realized.
“If you don’t think this can happen at your school, you are sadly mistaken,” he said.
“What I would ask our community to do would be to pray for those victims, and hope that we can return to some normalcy in our schools and our community,” Sheriff Cameron said.
CALLS FOR ACTION
Amid the chaos and shock that were the result of Tuesday’s shooting in Maryland, students and parents responded, calling for leaders to take swift action to make schools safe– while local leaders joined them calling for something to be done as soon as possible. Maryland’s Senate joined the House Monday night to ban bump stocks, which enable a semi-automatic rifle to mimic a fully automatic weapon.
Outside the school several hours after the incident, a mother and her daughter, who attends Great Mills High School, told FOX 5’s Bob Barnard her daughter would have been at the school if it weren’t for the fact that she was running late Tuesday morning.
“It was only by the grace of God that she was able to miss this event,” her mother said.
The shooting comes less than a week after students at Great Mills High School participated in the National School Walkout, and about a month since a threat to Leonardtown High School, which is only 14 miles from Great Mills, was posted on social media. The mother who spoke to Barnard said she called the principal after that incident, and asked what the plan of action was.
“It’s crazy because we were just protesting about this,” her daughter said, adding that today, her friends that were at the school when the shooting happened were scared because they thought they were going to lose their lives today.
Her mother pleaded for leaders to step up and take action to stop this from happening in another school.
“With all the lives of all the children throughout the United States that have been taken, we at this point need some action,” she told FOX 5. “I mean, how many more children have to lose their lives?”
Students across the country are calling for effective gun controls. Over 500,000 people are expected to take part in Saturday’s March For Our Lives rally against gun violence on the National Mall in D.C., with many other events taking place in other cities as well.
House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) spoke live with FOX 5’s Bob Barnard, saying it’s time for action to be taken to stop shootings in our schools.
“Young people don’t care about Democrat or Republican,” Hoyer said. “This is not a partisan issue.”
Great Mills High School is located in Great Mills, Maryland which is about two hours southeast of the Washington, D.C. area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.