Police say they don't know why a popular Social Studies teacher, Jesse Randal Davidson, allegedly fired a handgun inside his classroom, causing a chaotic lockdown and evacuation of his Georgia high school. But it immediately pierced the national debate over whether educators should be armed.
Davidson is accused of barricading himself inside a Dalton High School classroom and firing a handgun, sending students running outside or hunkering down inside darkened classrooms and a gymnasium locker room. He was taken into custody without incident after a 30- to 45-minute standoff with officers, and his motivations remained a mystery, Dalton Police spokesman Bruce Frazier said.
The gunfire erupted with a nation on edge following a Florida school shooting that killed 17 students and faculty and ignited a new debate over gun control. President Donald Trump, who has advocated arming teachers, had convened a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House to address gun violence on Wednesday afternoon.
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He suggested that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate people's firearms without a court order to prevent potential tragedies, saying, "Take the guns first, go through due process second."
Trump held another school safety meeting at the White House Thursday.
Also on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a bipartisan gun bill to boost compliance with federal background checks won't be the next order of business in the Senate.
McConnell told reporters that while he'd like the Senate to consider the legislation from Republican John Cornyn of Texas and Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut, he would instead be moving next week to a banking bill unrelated to the gun debate.
He said of gun legislation, "We'd love to do that at some point," and he's "hoping there's a way forward."
The Cornyn-Murphy bill is seen as a modest effort to provide incentives to agencies that comply with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and to penalize those that fail to submit records properly on those ineligible for gun purchase.
It is stalled in the Senate.
Several Dalton students voiced their outrage on Twitter, with some questioning whether the incident was staged.
"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. I dare you to tell me arming teachers will make us safe," student Chondi Chastain wrote in a tweet quickly shared thousands of times.
Dalton student Nathangel Lopez was hunkered down with classmates and teachers in a gym locker room and tweeted a photo of teens sitting on benches and calling 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.
Davidson himself had commented that arming teachers was a bad idea, Chastain told The Associated Press after sending her tweet.
"I feel like there just shouldn't be guns at school at all," she said. "It's our basic student right to feel safe at school and if (teachers were armed), I wouldn't feel safe."
Emma Gonzalez, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student whose passionate criticism of lawmakers has gained her more than 1.15 million Twitter followers, reacted by tweeting, "LISTEN TO US FOR GOD'S SAKE, DO THE STUDENTS OF AMERICA REALLY MATTER THIS LITTLE TO YOU ???"
Classes were canceled at the high school Thursday due to the shooting, although grief counselors were being made available and the students, who number about 2,000, were being allowed back in to recover their belongings. Classes were to resume on Friday, the school district announced.
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 across the street and into a hilltop neighborhood overlooking part of the city, where the bullet could have struck someone, Frazier said.
Twice in recent years, Dalton police say they encountered the teacher exhibiting odd behavior.
Davidson had walked into the police department telling a rambling story about thinking a murder had occurred, but officers weren't able to verify if anything he said was true. They wrote in a 2016 report that after their interview, Davidson was taken to a hospital "based on him thinking about hurting himself."
Then, last year, 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 by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Davidson was described as laid back and smart. In 2012, he was recognized as the school's top teacher, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Now he 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.